A great deal has been spoken and written in recent times about the current state and the future of the engineering industry in the UK. Not only does Sir James Dyson claim he could employ another 2000 engineers if they were out there, but figures for graduate engineers entering the business, pale into insignificance when you compare them with those in other parts of Europe. Simon Jones, Managing Director of PRV Engineering in Pontypool, South Wales, is concerned about the future of the industry.
“It’s failing miserably,” said Simon. “There’s a lack of investment and a real lack of skill. It just doesn’t exist in this country anymore and engineering doesn’t exist in any child’s vocabulary anymore.
“It’s not a career that is even mentioned in most places. Okay, it’s inherently a dirty, greasy job and at the end of the day, that’s the perception. The pay is good but it’s not as good as in other sectors.
“The real issue is that it’s been destroyed in the schools where you no longer have metalwork or woodwork lessons. Children are not allowed to use machines because of health and safety rules, so they don’t get excited by a lathe, because they’ve never seen one.
“We recently hosted around 50 schoolchildren at our plant in Pontypool and both the boys and the girls were so excited to see the machinery. They even made things on our CNC machine and everyone of them loved it.
“The question is, how will they continue that interest unless they are exposed to it? How would a child get to see a machine because they don’t have them in schools and even many colleges don’t have them?
“We have tied ourselves up in knots in this country and I really don’t see how we can get out of it. Yet elsewhere in Europe engineering is right up there with being a doctor, nurse or solicitor. It’s still very much a business to go into.
“Another problem is the legal wage for an apprentice engineer. It’s £2.50 an hour. Will that excite anybody? I pay more than that, but that’s the legal pay scale and it just shows that everything within the industry has been allowed to go to pot.
“Unless youngsters get excited by it in school, how are they going to get excited about it when they reach an age where they can go out to work? They have to have been exposed to it. Tell me how can I put a youngster on a £380,000 machine if they have never done any metalwork in his or her life?
“Whether the machine does it for you or not, you still need to know what a piece of metal sounds like when its being cut properly.”