Friday, 14 August 2015

Skills shortage?

I work for a computer solutions provider dealing with, among others, manufacturing companies based in the greater midlands area and there is one thing I keep hearing over and over:

 “We have vacancies to fill but we just can’t find the right people”

We, as a software company, have also been looking for both development and support staff recently and have been faced with the same problem.

Engineering seems to be becoming a dying art, as the old guards retire no one is coming in to fill their, steel toe capped, boots.  Whether I talk to people in design, manufacture or the tool room the story is the same.

I firmly believe that in this day and age engineering is just not seen as important, or even glamorous, enough.  Part of the responsibility for this lies with the education system, part with society but also a large part with British management style.

Education pushes people to use engineering as a stepping stone into management which is reinforced by society which seems to value people in middle management more highly than the engineers they rely on to get their widgets out of the door.  Now I am not saying that management is not important, it is.  As is sales, marketing, admin and all the other disciplines which make the manufacturing sector tick.

But in order for us, British manufacturing, to recover, innovate and compete we need to appreciate the humble (and not so humble) engineer far more than we do currently.  Engineers should not feel that the only way to earn the prestige and financial rewards they deserve is be promoted to management, they should be made to feel appreciated for what they actually contribute.  Fred is not “one of the guys from the tool room” he is the craftsmen who makes the tools which allows you, the manufacturing company, to make the quality product and deliver it on time and on budget.

Apprenticeships should play a major role in securing our engineering future.  During a recent visit to the Land Rover Defender production line at Jaguar Land Rover in Solihull I learned they had just invested in three hundred new engineering apprentices and that the training and rates of pay are attractive enough to keep engineers where they belong, in engineering.

What should we do?  Employ and train more engineering apprentices and, above all, APPRECIATE AND CELEBRATE THE ENGINEER!

And, yes, I regard myself as an engineer, albeit a software engineer!  I was promoted to management, wasn’t very good and ended up as a (far from) humble software engineer again.  I consider myself lucky to work for a company who rate my contribution more highly than they rate my job title.

Ian Marshall

Software engineer by trade (30 year veteran), frustrated engineer by inclination.  Passionate about engineering in general, restoring old motorcycles, 3d printing, electronics and both CNC and manual milling and turning. And don’t get me started on how I believe 3D printing could, should and will affect engineering in the future!