Err, why Vince?

“I mean if we’re going to get this country back onto long-term [growth] we need lots more engineers,

Why do we need lots more engineers?

1) What is it about the current supply that is inadequate?

2) If there is a shortage of engineers then why are engineering wages so low?

3) Given that manufacturing employment is going to continue to fall because automation, why do we need more engineers? And no, needing the engineers to build the machines isn\’t an answer. We\’ll still need fewer engineers overall.

26 thoughts on “Err, why Vince?”

  1. Plenty of industry people claim that there is a shortage of engineers. It’s not a problem for the likes of Shell or Siemens one imagines but there are regular stories of SMEs unable to recruit sufficient engineers.

    And I believe 100,000 engineers are due to retire over the next four years.

    Why has lack of supply not led to higher wages and more people training to be engineers I don’t know.

    Possibly due to long time lags. If I wanted to be an engineer I suspect I’d need to do a Maths and a Physics A level first. And that’s going to take a while.

  2. Firstly automation is not about replacing engineers – it is mostly about replacing unskilled/semi-skilled workers such as cleaners, roadsweepers, assembly-line workers – so increasing automation needs more engineers to *maintain and service* machines.
    Secondly, one of the few growth areas in UK manufacturing employment is automotive engineering (building cars etc) and we need engineers to design and test the components that could be made in Britain to replace those currently being imported from the home country of the car designers.
    Cable is actually right for once.

  3. Also, even if it’s true, what’s to say that the big batch of engineers that result from a government initiative to encourage people to study engineering will be good engineers, or that, as you imply with your question, having increased supply, pay rates will not drop even further, making it less attractive work to do?

    Even that glosses over the wide variety of engineering fields. Which sort should be magically produced?

  4. More engineers? Quite likely, but why bother when you can import them from countries with decent education systems.

    Fewer social workers? Now there’s an idea!

  5. Part of the problem is the widely differing uses of the word “engineer” in the UK.

    John77 is talking about design engineers – professionally qualified, CEng or CSci types. Cable probably isn’t – especially as he is quoted as immediately following it with “apprentice craftsmen”. We need, I suspect, more of all sorts – in varying quantities – but it is hard work, not much better than average paying (unless you go expat – which rather misses the point) and requires you to have paid somewhere between ‘quite a bit’ and ‘an awful lot’ of attention at school.

    I did BEng Electrical & Electronic – you need something like A & 2Bs (English) or 4Bs & a C (Jock) to get on to this. And that isn’t sufficient for professional qualification any more – you need a Masters now. There is a lot of competition for students like this and the relatively low social reputation of ‘engineering’ doesn’t help.

  6. Define ‘engineer’.
    I go with Germany on this – German Engineer’s Law (Ingenieurgesetz)
    To use that title to describe yourself you need a minimum 3-year Bachelors in one of the engineering diciplines.

  7. Raising the bar! I don’t pretend to understand it. I began an apprenticeship on leaving school at 15 with day-release at the local tech. I bumped into an old colleague recently only to discover he is recruiting kids to undertake similar, albeit more mechanised duties, and the entrance requirement is now a BSc in engineering – before being accepted for training. Likewise my subsequent career in the maritime industry…As long as you displayed some enthusiasm and could read and write you were off and running. Short of the relevant experience the same organisation now insists on a minimum entrance requirement of an MBA and two languages. I have a number of relatives/friends who are ‘engineers’ aged 3-5 years either side of 60. The personnel they work with are all of a similar age; when they retire there is no one to replace them. I assume when the shit hits the fan their organisations will recruit from overseas?

  8. This is trotted out all the time. Basically certain businesses don’t want to pay better wages to engineers, so they see the aging population of engineers as a threat to their bottom line in the future.

    Of course a lot of people aren’t going into engineering because of low wages, but it’s cheaper and easier to whinge to the government and media rather than try to attract people into the engineering professions through higher wages and other employment benefits.

  9. the difference here is between engineers and “people who are called engineers but are actually mechanics and repairmen”. I have long thought that, like Germany, the profession would get more respect if the job title were legally protected like “solicitor”.

    There is also, as @Shinsei67 says, a serious demographic problem. In the oil and gas industry the average age of engineering staff is well over 50 and courses like Imperial’s undergrad petroleum engineering course simply don’t run any more. We’re now at the stage where certain bog-standard technical skills are in such demand that smaller, hungrier companies are offering £200k base salaries just to attract staff. It won’t last long if/when the oil price falls but for now it’s a seller’s market in a huge way.

  10. Counter intuitive it might be, but I’m all in favour of universities charging the full whack for tuition. Meda Studies would drop to a grand a year, but engineers would rise to 15-20K. At that price, engineering wages would have to rise, which would would bring higher status in train.

    I can remember back in 94 (I think) when the head of BAE grandly declared that he would have to start recruiting Americans or Germans to engineering positions since there weren’t enough Brits of the right calibre. Since half the graduates I knew immediately left engineering and went into the City etc for higher wages I knew this was cobblers. BAE kindly proved my point a couple of months later by running an ad in Flight International for a Fuel Systems engineer, with three years experience (in a highly esoteric field!) for which they were willing to pay 16.5K…which was the average graduate wage at the time. Never did get to find out whether anyone from the US or DE ever joined BAE….

  11. @ SE
    In my second paragraph I included design engineers but the majority of those to whom I referred in my first paragraph are those who would have come up through traditional apprenticeships.

  12. Anecdote: a close friend of my daughter got a first in engineering from Edinburgh, and went straight into a job at £70k pa with a major firm. Two years later, he’s in Afghanistan being paid pro rata £155k pa for a six-month project.

  13. In Britain an engineer is the guy who repairs your washing machine and the title has pretty much the corresponding social status.

    In France an engineer is an elite who has attended a grande ecole. In Germany they are more highly ranked socially than doctors.

    Maybe a bit more respect for the title of engineer would help.

  14. If by engineer we mean those who have a decent engineering degree from Oxbridge, London, Manchester etc then won’t the collapse in financial services largely alleviate the shortage of young engineers coming through the ranks of industry.

    How many unemployed 27 year old derivative traders with an engineering degree are there moping around the City at the moment. Another six months of no increase in City business might make that job offer at Rolls Royce seem much more attractive.

  15. The earnings potential for a city trader is many orders more than an engineer in the UK. Even oil and gas engineers are badly paid in comparison.

    While I get very tied of hearing engineers moan about low wages, when BAE are looking to pay little more than £20/hr for designers of Aircraft Carriers on contract, that isn’t exactly going to inspire a generation to get into the business.

    BP are much the same, complaining about there being no experienced engineers to hire and you know they won’t touch anyone other than an Oxbridge grad and want to pay £25-30k.

  16. Three things:

    1) Germany has a much more successful manufacturing sector than does the UK.

    2) Germany has a substantial balance-of-trade surplus. The UK has a substantial deficit.

    3) In Germany, engineering is a highly regarded profession. In the UK, ‘engineer’ is a word appended to the job title of anyone in overalls.

  17. when I was at Oxford in the early 80s, none of the poeple I knew who were reading Engineering went into engineering jobs. Their reason was that nobody was recruiting engineers. They became accountants, lawyers, marketeers, general managers etc. Do the same conditions apply today?

  18. Tim. I generally agree with you on everything but here you are being a complete twat and you need educating. I work in the automation industry so I’ll answer your questions:

    1.In automation current supply of qualified engineers is vastly inadequate.

    2. The wages are far from low. I know engineers on contract are earning well in excess of 100K per annum – is that low wage ? For a Project Manager (usually an engineer) you can earn way more than that.

    3. In the indutries we serve and in our own sector the workforce is getting older and companies find it difficult to replace years of experience, so automation engineers are in demand. If you think engineers just “build machines” then thats just more twatery on your part.

  19. so increasing automation needs more engineers to *maintain and service* machines.

    This reminds me of the lady I met when I was a graduate in Manchester who said doing an engineering degree was a good idea because “everyone has a car and they’re always breaking down”.

    Engineers do not maintain and service machinery.

  20. Germany has a much more successful manufacturing sector than does the UK.

    Hmmm. That depends on what you’re looking for. Production machines and cars, yes. And their mittelstand are good at what they do. But in weapons and oilfield equipment, to name just two, Britain outperforms the the Germans by a mile.

  21. Some good comments here, especially from David Hall and Rupert Fiennes. The problem is not a lack of engineers, it is a reluctance of engineering companies to raise salaries, hence most engineering graduates don’t go into engineering.

    Back in about 1998 I attended an IMechE function in the northwest of England, which was full of doddering old fools in blazers and golf club ties. They were asking how to attract more engineers into the profession, at which point I suggested they pay them more. The looks I got, and the sniggering from the person asking the question, suggested this had never occurred to them, and that they found all this talk of money to be most distasteful. To them, engineering is a vocation in which people go out of the pure joy of the work, not for money. Unsurprisingly, this was my first and last IMechE function, and shortly after, pissed off with the paltry wages on offer in engineering in the UK, I emigrated. Now I’m raking it in.

    The story about BAE is all too common, and the clowns running British engineering firms do not know any economics. The oil business is prepared to pay, but if you look at the recruitment methods of major oil companies you’d be amazed they ever manage to recruit anyone at all. They are hopelessly inept. The service companies are a bit better, but tend to pay graduates fuck all (and then complain of shortages) or demand everyone has 10 years experience minimum before they’re considered.

    In summary, any shortfall in engineers in the UK is down to the fucking idiocy of those tasked with recruiting them for engineering work. But there is no shortage of engineering graduates.

  22. The 10 years experience for oil and gas is always a good one, Adds for a project engineer with 1-2 year experience, 10 years in oil & gas in the same sentance are not uncommon.

    Last time I spent with on a contract with BP as a client they had a trainee Electrical Engineer with a phd in physics. Going back to scratch doing an electrical engineering degree after spending years getting all the way to an Ovbridge phd. He was told BP couldn’t find electrical engineers at all, and that was the only career path open to him. Quite how they end up in that situation is beyond me!

  23. @ Tim Almond
    Regardless of what you would like the nomenclature to be, it seems to me that most people regard anyone who has successfully completed an engineering apprenticeship as an engineer. The Amalgamated Engineering Union did not, before it amalgamated with the ETU, contain many graduates.

  24. Tim Almond?

    In the UK the engineering profession has been devalued by referring to any artisan as an engineer, with the result that professional engineers struggle for recognition and rewards.

    In Australia there is a shortage of professional engineers in most disciplines resulting in high salaries and an acceptance that there is a need to import engineers to satisfy the demand. I can earn $500k in professional fees without breaking a sweat (I take 8 weeks plus leave each year). On top of that I employ engineers. When I last lived in the UK ten years ago I struggled to make a living as a professional engineer which is why we emigrated. When I retire we’ll be entirely self-funded and still able to maintain our present lifestyle. If we’d stayed in the UK our pension would probably have been a fifth or less than we expect to retire on in Australia. Heading for Australia was the best thing we ever did.

  25. I can remember when two of my friends joined Rolls Royce in Bristol after graduation. One an Engineering Maths with a 2:1, another with a 2:2 in English into HR. Paid the same, of course. I did enquire why, with a shortage of engineers on staff, they didn’t raise their wages and drop those of the HR bods, but got the reply that “everyone should be equal”. Apparently RR was a hippy commune 🙂

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