Dyson says our attitude to engineering sucks

– But  do job such jobs  prospects  exist in a vacuum?

Dyson Vac detail

 

In a report today from BBC News , published here ( TECHNOLOGY NEWS )British industrial designer and inventor, Sir James Dyson  speaks out and asks the government to do something  about  the haemorrhaging of  practical inventive talent with engineering graduates leaving Britain in large numbers for jobs abroad. He says too that many are  using their qualifications to go into non-engineering careers in areas where opportunities are more attractive. He claims that we are looking at a shortfall of some 60,000 qualified  engineers in the future. A significant percentage of undergraduates on engineering courses here actually come from overseas and surely return home after qualifying taking their talent and competencies with them.  

Dyson goes on to lament  that engineering research here is grossly undervalued and often very poorly paid.  He calls on the government to affect changes that would  raise the status of engineering and make it more rewarding in the hope of  reversing this worrying exodus. When you look through the list of the top British Inventions produced from a survey by the BBC, and published here , a while back in the RADIO TIMES  the list is impressive, we clearly have had the talent and a great pedigree and so many things on  that list  have impacted so positively on our daily lives and on other all over the world.  

How many everyday products in British homes are not actually British made any more ?

How many everyday products in British homes are not actually British made any more ?

But are we , if the present climate goes unchecked, likely to add  much to the list ? These days you will struggle to find evidence  of significant manufacturing industry in the UK  and also a decline in the number of people who have the requisite practical skills to drive what production there is. As more and more production moves to the East, most notably China to save on production and skilled labour costs, the market for engineers and skilled workers will continue to diminish and injecting cash into engineering  here is unlikely to cure that ill. Never before has the market place been so competitive on cost. Made in Britain products once had a global reputation when quality mattered more than cost  but even some of the most iconic British brands  are now produced oversees and some no longer even British owned.

iconic British brands like Cadbury are no longer British owned.

iconic British brands like Cadbury are no longer British owned.

 

 

Dyson is probably the most high profile entrepreneur / designer/inventor in recent years and fair enough he should use his celebrity and authority to draw attention to this issue and express his concern. But  he must know  himself that there are harsh market realities at play, basic supply and demand issues and issues of ever increasing labour and production costs which , he cannot have forgotten, had his own company move production from Malmesbury in Wiltshire  to Malaysia at the cost of some 800 jobs back in 2002. At the time they retained the Research and Development workforce at home but again that work force was rationalised in 2008 and more jobs lost but   currently,  the brand’s Research and Development base still employs 650 engineers and Scientists.

my son at work

my son at work

One of my sons  was always hand’s on , inventive , intellectually more gifted than me and a born engineer. He used my cellar workshops from an early age at first dismantling and then being able to repair things, get motorbikes working again and, for example aged just fourteen adapted a petrol driven motor mower engine and mounted it on an old motor bike to get it back and running ! He dropped out of six form, bored with Pure Maths and Physics then went  to do a motor engineering course at a local college and  eventually he was signed up to do a university motor racing engineering degree.  In the end, rashly or not, he declined the place because of his dismay at the way computer aided designed dominated the course and he wanted to remain more hands on.

motor manufacture is almost all out of our hands these days twelve  makers are foreign owned inclduing Bentley (VW) and rolls oyce (BMW)  and only four companies are still British owned and those are aimed at the  specialist.

motor manufacture is almost all out of our hands these days twelve makers are foreign owned including Bentley (VW) and Rolls Royce (BMW) and only four companies are still British owned and those are aimed at the specialist.

I am acquainted with two engineering based business’s CEOs, both for whom I have been privileged to supply with images of their stuff in action being used by international champion athletes.  One is a based in New Zealand and global brand leader in a sector of the highly competitive sport protective gear market. Like the other he is hand’s on, a serial social media poster, always happy to interact and engage with others  and both are very likeable one offs who think out of the box. The proud native Kiwi sources all materials from NZ , does all the research and development in house and only uses natives in his  work force. The other, an ex-pat Brit, lives and works now in Taiwan and drives an impressive business producing state of the art racing bikes and wheels using high tech materials but crucially everything is made by hand.  As I understand it, the move to that part of the world was purely driven by the need for a dedicated workforce that had the requisite high quality skills which he couldn’t find here. Both businesses have sound ethics and both have products which do not compromise quality for costs in the manner that made British made goods in such demand in former time even though more expensive than standard goods.  

Footnote :

My father as a boy soldier when he was an armourer

My father as a boy soldier when he was an armourer

Looking back over my own life, in the last sixty years  I have witnessed the decline of the manufacturing sector and the advance of technology at a rate which you just find hard to comprehend.

Smart phone - wireless miniaturised high tech instant access to the world wide web and instant  communications.

Smart phone – wireless miniaturised high tech instant access to the world wide web and instant communications.

I had a dad who was an engineer, both electrical and mechanical and who was a one off and did some amazing stuff first in the Army and later working as a draughtsman for the Admiralty .  He was often sent on courses by the Army to do highly specialist roles and for example worked on refrigeration and installing iron lungs in hospitals in India. My dad also had a strong code of honour – when he had finished installing the iron lungs he refused sign them over without first testing. At considerable risk, with what was then stat of the art stuff , he actually got into the things to make sure they were working safely . He was one  who made stuff, never got someone in  and repaired anything at home and my home was surrounded by hand tools. I saw that, played with mechano, messed with bikes and cars etc  as a kid and to this day I can do most stuff around the home myself even though some  of the stuff is no longer designed to be  repaired  , merely thrown away and replaced.  

I keep a tool box nearby and pride myself in being hands on and pretty self reliant

I keep a tool box nearby and pride myself in being hands on and pretty self reliant but is thaat increasingly rare ?

 

You wonder now where  the engineers are going to come in the future from when you look at the over sophisticated, often high tech  easy result toys kids  play with now and how fewer and fewer people , for example, will have learned practical skills from early years play let alone  how to use tools or mend things. Surely kids are more passive learners now?

Edwardian "not so smart "phone using the materials ( bakerlite and earlyu form of plastic ) & technology of the day , the telephone a British invention.

Edwardian “not so smart “phone using the materials ( bakerlite and earlyu form of plastic ) & technology of the day , the telephone a British invention.

 Then  you look overseas, particularly in countries  east of us, where many people live on so much less,  and so, many  still have artisan skills to make do and mend because it is tougher to be able  to replace stuff. They are likely to be more resourceful and able to improvise. If necessity is the mother of invention – how can new things come about when everything is there on a plate for you ? If I am right in this respect , it appears to me,  that the lack of opportunities for engineering graduates in the UK , and how here we perhaps tend to under value the profession , while we  are impressed by people like Dyson and their products,  we won’t invest in the futures of  the more inventive among us.  That is part of the global economic climate , simple supply and demand , a down side of  the modern western world economy where we are so much more price not quality led consume to doom rather than the actual makers of stuff these days.  Jobs and appointments are market led- and perhaps the reason why graduates leave and take their engineering qualifications with them is purely because the requisite jobs just aren’t here any more and very probably unlikely ever to be again.        

3 Responses to “Dyson says our attitude to engineering sucks”

  1. Steven Jones says:

    Your view of engineering as a discipline is very narrow-minded in the way you are purely looking at the production and mechanical areas. Yes, I agree that manufacturing industry has thrived elsewhere ultimately due to the cheaper labor but this is not all engineering is.

    • John Coxon says:

      sorry if I gave that impression as of course the discipline is applied in all fields in everyday life keeping things going, making things safe designing and doing all sorts to fulfil a need and not of course just product to sell based. i am concerned about how kids can be turned on to this stuff when it all seems so much more done for them and I also think we tend not to give engineers the status and respect they deserve. my work in the main has me workling for manufacturers and to an extent my journalism tends to focus on marketing rather than everyday services but point taken and thansk for sharing.

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