Dyson: Dearth of engineers is hurting Britain

Sir James Dyson is on the hunt for recruits as profits soar.

by Gabriella Griffith
Last Updated: 23 Jan 2014
He’s certainly not one of our mouthiest entrepreneurs - he chooses his statements well - but Sir James Dyson has something on his mind: UK engineers – or the lack thereof.

The inventor has announced an increase in sales and profits at his firm, up 17% and 18% respectively, with earnings reaching £364m. Now he needs to suck more engineers into the Dyson clan to ensure growth. But he says the lack of UK engineers is his biggest barrier to growth.

The vacuum virtuoso has expressed plans to employ an extra 650 engineers in 2013, half of which need to be found in the UK, for Dyson’s Malmesbury headquarters. The rest will be based in Dyson’s two plants in Asia.

‘We’ll get all the workers we need in Singapore and Malaysia,’ Sir James said. ‘But we have to be realistic in Britain. If we can get 300 we’ll be doing well. We would recruit 2,000 if we could. We have got the technology and the ideas. We just need the people.’

The latest wave of good results for Dyson has come off the back of products only launched in 2012 - including the DC44 lightweight, cordless vacuum cleaner - vindicating his spend on R&D and innovation. But the government hasn’t got a realistic grasp on the situation, according to Dyson. Changes to the export market are such that we need swathes of engineers to keep up with the innovation and production of other economies.

Dyson pointed out that Britain is spitting out some 12,000 engineering graduates every year, but there are currently 54,000 vacancies – a figure expected to shoot up over the next two years.

‘If you export, you can only export better technology and better engineering,’ said Sir James.

‘So you have to develop products much more rapidly than you have historically. Britain is not geared up for that and I don’t think the Government understands it.

‘India produces 1.2m engineering graduates a year. The Philippines produces more than us, so does Iran, so does Mexico. It’s not a sustainable situation.’

Educational reform could lead to the answer, though: if we encourage more students to take up engineering – perhaps even pay them to do their studies.

‘Out of 3,000 engineering post-grads, only 50 are British. The tragedy is that they go back home and take back the technology they have developed in British universities and become our competitors,’ said Sir James.

He added that students shouldn't be expected to live on grants of, ‘£7,000 to £12,000 a year. They should be paid £40,000 a year in recognition of the contribution they will make.’

What would universities minister David Willets make of that? With cuts still to be made, we doubt the public coffers will cough up that kind of support for our budding boffins.

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