Bright sparks emerging from automotive industry and plenty of bright sparks too at last month’s Big Bang science, technology and engineering fair for youngsters.
Following hot on the heels of a series of positive stories about the automotive sector, culminating in Jaguar Land Rover’s announcement that it was to create 1,000 jobs at Halewood, the fair gave the great and the good of the engineering industry the chance to connect with schoolchildren.
All the big names were there: Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), of course, along with BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Airbus, EDF, Cummins, General Dynamics, ABB and Siemens. And if the employers turned out, so did the kids – a record 53,000, enough to fill the cavernous Birmingham NEC with energy and laughter. It is right that major companies are supporting the Big Bang. It presents a vital opportunity to promote industry when hundreds of thousands of engineers are expected to be needed in the rest of the decade.
As the economy, or at least the manufacturing sector, has recovered, it’s become increasingly noticeable that companies are struggling to recruit staff. Big high-tech firms like Renishaw have hundreds of vacancies. Key infrastructure projects such as Crossrail are ramping up demand for engineers. And small firms are finding it hard to attract staff with the right skills. It’s a reminder that a shortage of engineers is not a possibility that lies ahead in the future – it’s in the here and now.
JLR’s executive director Mike Wright says: “The Big Bang is one of many ways you can engage with young people. Schoolkids can see what engineering means in a practical sense. This is a really good event and we’re proud to support it.
“The added dimension here with the NEC is that it is our local patch. We have manufacturing facilities and our engineering centres in Coventry and Gaydon. And there will have been local schools visiting.”
Wright says that the 1,000 new posts at Halewood – needed to create an extra shift to build the Range Rover Evoque – will be oversubscribed. “But for us why the fair is so important is that before you talk about manufacturing jobs you need a product creation process. That’s where the engineering and technology, and innovation comes in. We’ve recruited 1,000 extra engineers at our Gaydon facility over the last year and really this is about making sure there’s a conveyor belt of kids who are willing to study the right subjects and go on to engineering at university, or be apprentices – we shouldn’t just think there’s one track on this.”
Will JLR struggle to recruit the engineers it needs in future? Wright says: “Well look, it’s no secret that there’s a shortage of engineers. One of the reasons industry, government and companies like us are putting so much emphasis on talking up engineering is to attract those resources for the future. And it’s not just big companies like ourselves that need engineers – engineering drives a huge supply base that requires talent too.”