Bonuses up for Scientific and Technical Sector
According to the Office of National Statistics £42 billion of bonuses were paid out in Britain for year ending March 2015.
It is significant to note that the biggest sector fall was in the financial and insurance industries where there was a near 10% drop on the previous year.
Meanwhile in the rest of this economy bonuses rose by 9.7% ……
but the sector with the biggest increase in bonuses was the professional scientific and technical services up £0.9bn on the previous year.
Let’s hope that this indicates the engineering and technical sector is faring well financially and that in order to attract the best people companies and research establishments are realising they must reward people well.
I acknowledge that bonuses in the City still remain high in comparison with the rest of the economy but what those figures hide is that the City remains a tough environment to work in. It’s a hire and fire culture with many burnt-out before the age of 40. Engineering by comparison can give you a career where age and experience are greatly valued.
A single page in the business section presented the year-end figures of two companies. AIM listed handbag maker Mulberry making £1.9m profit on a turnover of £110m, and FTSE250 WS Atkins the innovative engineering company making £122m profit on a revenue of £1.76bn.
Which gets the most airspace? …. yes, you’ve guessed it, HANDBAGS by a mile.
Mulberry commands much of the broadsheet page including a large photograph of Cara Delevingne, plus handbag and owl, alongside a smaller shot of CEO Godfrey Davis.
Atkins by comparison is tucked in the bottom corner with no pictures. If I was Uwe Krueger the CEO of Atkins I’d be seriously miffed.
Atkins is a company at the very forefront of UK civil engineering, highly innovative and constantly pushing construction boundaries. They are also a key mover in efforts to promote STEM subjects in schools and encourage girls to consider a career in engineering.
Mulberry, on the other hand, strikes me as a business still relying on designs from the 1980s and could well do with some innovation of its own.
Why does this matter you may ask?
With the shortage of new blood threatening the prosperity of the sector it’s accepted that Engineering per se must raise its profile if more of the young, and girls in particular, are to be encouraged into the professions.
But with an endemic trait where even the most respected press can succumb to glamour and celebrity over serious content getting that exposure requires new thinking.
Our engineering companies must acknowledge the image challenge they face and be as innovative with their PR as they are with their technology. To present technical successes in ways that grab the attention of journalists who are the critical link in giving engineering a big voice. To trump the trite.
This weekend I visited the Alexander McQueen fashion exhibition at the V&A in London.
Creations of an untethered mind realised through immaculate craftsmanship. Well worth a visit!
What’s that got to do with engineering you may ask?
Well the highlight for me was the laser technology behind one particular exhibit. A hologram of Kate Moss in a flowing gown, that wafts around her in the wind. She appears from nowhere, and floats before you; there …. yet not there. Something that could only be realised through an extraordinary piece of engineering.
A vision first seen some 9 years ago, but only presented at exclusive fashion shows in New York, Paris and London to which the few fashionistas are invited.
Now for the first time it can seen by the general public. To me it’s an extraordinary example of how clever engineering, combined with a creative mind, can create something truly mystical and inspiring.
Whilst the video gives a taster you have to see it in three dimensions – only then does its true magic become apparent. A combination of art and engineering that should remain on permanent show.
It’s exactly the sort of presentation we need to get young minds asking “How does that work?” … and potentially encourage more to consider a career in engineering.
photo: Michel Dufour/WildImage video: thanks to tachyon17011701 on youtube
How to encourage the young to delve into Engineering ………
My congratulations go to Imagine Publishing, I’ve just discovered their How It Works series on Amazing Technology.
These richly illustrated magazines (not cheap) give an engaging insight into the technology behind a vast selection of gadgets and topical engineering. Most importantly they present the social relevance of engineering and today’s teens want to know the WHY of a technology not just the WHAT. This is very much the case with girls.
Academic purists will no doubt say it’s all too simplistic and lacks detail but if we are trying to encourage those around 12-15 yrs to consider a future in Engineering these are a great aid. Teachers and parents take note.
and maybe point out career paths.
From a career point of view what many teens might also want to know is how many of these innovations are British? and more importantly …How many companies in the UK are directly involved in their research or manufacture?
I can see simple ways to build upon these pages to create material which is far more inspiring than the government’s National Careers Service. Maybe that’s where our Engineering institutions could work with the publishers to create the career advice that research shows is in such short supply.
In recent years there have been numerous reports raising concern at the low number of young people entering the engineering professions and analysing various aspects of this topic.
Yet while the Institutions flag their concerns, I am beginning to ask myself some fundamental questions as follows: ‘Is the very fact that the situation has been allowed to progressively deteriorate for years, evidence in itself that the Institutions are ineffective in addressing the issues that their own reports endlessly highlight and analyse?’ ‘Isn’t action to effectively promote engineering one of their key raison d’êtres and if so, are they not letting down their profession?’
There is a great deal of prevarication about, ‘we’ve done this and we’ve done that’ but, with the exception of the STEM activities in schools and the BIG BANG for which Engineering UK and its partners should be firmly congratulated, I see little evidence of the profile of real engineering being on the rise. Why is this? Do they lack insight and inspiration, key skills, courage and importantly passion?
I also wonder whether there is any accountability? With the Institutions’ practising members preoccupied with their day to day business or research, and the fact that 95% of our engineering sector comprises of small/medium sized firms who lack the experience or resources to promote what they do to a lay audience, I ask myself, “Who holds the Institutions’ Executives to truly account for the considerable sums of their members’ funds they spend on reports, facts and stats that say nothing new and projects that fall short?”
Here’s an example. In early November 2014 the IET congratulated themselves on a successful drinks party with MPs. The purpose was to highlight the plight of engineering to MPs who were in turn asked to contact engineering firms in their constituency to ‘up the ante’. Hmmm …….. isn’t this a little bit of the tail wagging the dog? Aren’t the local engineering firms members of the Engineering Institution, and are they not looking to the Institution to promote engineering in the wider context on their behalf!
I‘ve seen a resulting event first hand. Companies using presentations, normally pitched at the purchasing department of the MOD or BP, to talk to an audience of 12 – 13 year olds. It was both embarrassing and sad – is that really the way to inspire the next generation?
Here are some further instances that have given rise to my questions.
In this era where influential media exposure matters the practising engineer faces a major problem – most are located in the industrial heartland, far from London. Far removed from the network and media chatter of the capital. So, when it comes to competing for media exposure they are ‘out of sight and out of mind’.
The Engineering Institutions, by contrast, sit in impressive offices in the very heart of the capital and are supposedly well connected in government and media. Shouldn’t the Institutions have stepped up to the mark long ago and effectively courted the influential media as happens in all other sectors of business? Instead, opportunities are missed and engineering appears in the public domain to remain passive and insular.
Compare the hype around the Turner and Man Booker prizes (worth £25,000 and £50,000 respectively) against the exposure given to the QEP for Engineering which is worth £1M. The Turner and Man Booker prize receive extensive ‘front page’ coverage across all media including television. The QEP is all but ignored and what coverage it receives is generally ‘back page.’ I wonder how many engineers are even aware of the existence of this prize, let alone the public?
In a knee jerk reaction some have begun producing videos, but sadly, if the viewing statistics are to be believed, with no particular target audience in mind, nor promotional strategy and follow up actions attached. Check the You Tube viewing numbers and you’ll note that they rarely reach 3 digits.
And finally, it seems to me that endless reports bemoaning the plight of modern engineers is utterly counter-productive – who wants to work in a field that nobody wants to touch?
These are, of course, just my observations and no doubt there will be a flurry of facts and stats emailed around defending actions and highlighting that the broad membership has a vote on policy. That, and all the good works aside there is however one undeniable fact, whatever the Institutions are doing to promote engineering as the profession of choice, it isn’t working sufficiently.
So I ask, perhaps it’s time for practising Engineers to demand more of their Institutions?
Is it not time for Engineering’s Institutions to stop their commissioning of endless reports, forming committees that simply discuss the issues, or toying with initiatives that tinker around the edges?
Shouldn’t they all work together as one – individual egos and comfortable ‘inner circles’ put aside for the benefit of the wider profession? As a sector worth £1.17 trillion per year to the UK economy it should be punching far, far harder.
Isn’t it is time to be creative in presenting the work of today’s practising engineers in a way that inspires and positions engineering at the heart of public consciousness. After all, who would have thought that a program about baking cakes would be watched by 10-12 million week in, week out?
above all think BIG, BOLD and POSITIVE.
One of the great failings of the UK engineering community is its inability to communicate with the young.
In trying to inspire schoolchildren it’s no good just encouraging them to study STEM subjects it’s equally important for them to understand the relevance of what they’re studying to society and a career in the future.
This video created by Newcastle University in Australia is an excellent example of how to connect with teenagers, or in fact the man in the street. It’s short, talks their language, explains simply, and the use of cartoons make it friendly and approachable. Most importantly there’s is no jargon or corporate speak. Oh and another thing – it was cheap to produce.
UK Engineering companies and Institutions take note.
Just launched at the Saatchi Gallery London…… an interesting example of how a company can make you look afresh at what it does, underlining the fine skills that go into products that may be luxurious but are, above all, superb pieces of engineering.
Inside Rolls-Royce provides a unique opportunity to experience the essence of the pinnacle automotive brand in an interactive exhibition. You are invited to see some of the exquisite materials, the unrivalled technology and supreme craftsmanship that go into making ‘the best cars in the world’.
Inside Rolls-Royce launches at the Saatchi Gallery, and then goes on tour around major cities worldwide throughout 2015. Combining the latest technologies and design, Inside Rolls-Royce delivers an engaging and interactive experience. Exhibits use iBeacon innovations bringing to life iconic objects on visitors’ smartphones and tablets.
Now I know it’s an exhibition about some of the world’s most expensive cars which creates a voyeuristic fascination of ‘how the other half lives’ but let’s think beyond that.
What I find interesting is the creative use of modern technology and simple displays to present engineering in a way which makes it tangible and intriguing to a broad public.
I think there are lessons there of value to the engineering industries that are so desperate to raise their public profile and attract the next generation of engineers.
Whilst commentators endlessly discuss the glass ceiling faced by women in their careers, here in the UK, Engineers as a whole face a similar barrier – a SOCIAL ceiling.
A situation highlighted by the recent Government report ‘Elitist Britain’.
Chairman of the Commission, Alan Milburn underlines that the number of privately educated people in senior public roles had led to a “closed shop at the top”. He adds “These institutions rely on too narrow a range of people, from too narrow a range of backgrounds, with too narrow a range of experiences, they behave in ways and focus on issues that are of salience to only a minority, not the majority in our society.”
We live in a society that revolves around the creations of science and engineering. Without them, we’d have no food or water, healthcare, communications or transport. Life would rapidly grind to a halt and anarchy soon prevail. Even music, art, literature and film rely on technology for their transmission.
And yet the Establishment fails to recognise the impact of engineering and science.
Only two of the 42 permanent secretaries, who lead the UK’s civil service, and none of our 23 current cabinet ministers have degrees in science or engineering. We have nearly 90 lawyers in the House of Commons, but only one research scientist.
So why does this matter to Engineering you ask?
Well if the people making government policies have little interest, let alone a passion for engineering, they’re unlikely to see it as valued and core to our future prosperity. Secondly those in media have tremendous influence over what we see and read through TV newspapers and magazines. If those influencers have been educated through a system which devalues engineering they are unlikely ever to make the subject central to discussions and features.
Have you noticed that newspapers retain political, education, health, business, legal, sports, arts, entertainment, even fashion correspondents, but never an Engineering Correspondent? Yet this sector creates revenues of £1 trillion per year, and employs around 5 million people across 500,000 companies.
This misguided elitism starts at school.
Eton for example, has an annual intake of around 240 boys of which I am reliably informed around 8% show some initial interest in STEM type careers. Alas even from that low base, when it comes to the final choice, Engineering rarely features. With its long history not single engineer of renown has emerged from its hallowed doors. At another leading private school I’ve heard of parents with a child showing a fascination for engineering despondent at being unable to find the right support to help advance the child’s interest.
http://engenius-i.comWithin the private education sector alumni play a highly influential role when it comes to career guidance both for both teachers and students. Old boys/girls are welcomed to explain their careers, how they got there, the sort of work they do and the rewards they get both financially and socially. The result being that old elite values prevail creating a self-perpetuating cap on engineering.
The manner in which this operates is well expressed by George Edwards who at the age of 18 already has his first engineering product on sale.
“At my school” says George “there was no shortage of bankers, financiers, lawyers, management consultants, civil servants and media people to call upon to discuss and encourage us to follow similar career paths. But when it came to engineers there were only three.” As George laments “ and the same three were called upon year after year.”
With such an influential network to compete against it is hardly surprising that engineering continues to fail when it comes to attracting its due quota of the brightest and best connected minds.
The more the elite places emphasis on studying law, politics, banking and media and less on engineering then we are going nowhere as a society.
Richard Lamm, former Governor of Colorado, himself a lawyer, summed this up eloquently “The new economic world tells us that nations which train engineers will prevail over those which train lawyers. No nation has ever sued its way to greatness.”
Whilst the current Engineering Initiatives are welcome most are out of touch with the reality of engineering in the UK. They focus on the predictable handful of big name companies who have plenty of resources.
The vast majority of UK engineering firms employ less than 80 people. These are the companies that drive innovation across a multitude of industrial sectors and are also the first to suffer when the major players start their recruitment drives. They are the companies with the potential to grow and become international leaders. They are also the companies that require the most support in developing their young engineers whilst managing their overall business goals. Most importantly they are our only real hope for making significant inroads into the enormous national debt that burdens this country.
Let’s get some real support behind the backbone of UK manufacturing – the thousands of SME’s that have kept engineering alive here.
Following the recent launch of iPhone 6 and iWatch Yahoo’s Tech Columnist Rob Walker took a tilt at Jony Ive’s video presentations.
Now I know they’re high profile (and much mimicked) but we should be applauding Ive’s love of engineering and the way he underlines the skills of the Apple team, not belittling it. If only there were more such engineers around, particularly here in Ive’s home country the UK.
What Jonathan underlines is that behind these products lie innovations, at many levels, which the vast majority of our consumer society just take for granted.
It’s done in a way that is low on tech speak, makes you look more closely at the product, and leads you to realise they result from the collective effort of dozens of creative engineers. Yes engineering is very creative!
Those who do have experience of electronics manufacturing will appreciate the sophistication of processes exploiting technology that hardly existed just a few years ago. Had you suggested to a mass market laptop or mobile manufacturer in 2005 that they machine housings from solid aluminium you would have been laughed out of court. Now, through thinking differently, the Apple team works to exceptionally fine tolerances which give us the ultra slim phones and computers we love.
What these videos demonstrate too is that much of manufacturing today is not undertaken in dingy workshops, but on clean computer-controlled production lines where the human input is more to do with innovative software and mechanization, than getting your hands dirty.
When I offered Jony his first job, albeit many years ago, what impressed me was not only his design skills but also his deep fascination for how things were made. If you don’t strive to understand the engineering processes you will never be in a position to not only think differently, but more importantly, to actually achieve that difference. That’s a valuable lesson for today’s young designers.
So what lessons can be learnt by the UK engineering sector that is so short of young talent – a problem that Apple does not suffer.
Well firstly if you are to encourage the next generation into engineering strive to present what you do, and why you do it, in a language which is easily understood and devoid of corporate jargon. This applies whether the business makes products, components or large infrastructure projects. You must grab the attention of parents, teachers, as well as the teenagers who are in the throes of deciding which avenues to pursue.
Secondly demonstrate overtly the value of your people – why would I want to work in an environment where I’m not valued? Most technology achievements are brought about by the collective work of bright minds and it is that social interaction itself which is a very attractive part of many careers.
Thirdly think differently about how you communicate using the amazing power of the web.