We need more engineers!

By Dr. Ralf Speth, CEO, Jaguar Land Rover

As Jaguar Land Rover continues its ambitious plans for global growth, I am becoming increasingly concerned by the shortage of skilled young new engineering talent.

The UK produces about half the number of engineering graduates needed to rebalance its economy. The Royal Academy of Engineering says that by 2020 we’ll need twice as many engineering graduates and three times today’s number of apprentices if the UK is to meet the needs of an advanced manufacturing sector. Britain needs this ‘critical mass’ of great young engineers if it is to become successful in tomorrow’s innovation-based economy.

Jaguar Land Rover is addressing this issue by working in partnership with academia to enrich education, introduce students to the world of work and promote STEM subjects and careers. We're also hiring and training record numbers of apprentices and graduates. Over the past two years, we’ve recruited 1,000 young people to develop future talent within our business.

The shortage of engineering talent is a major concern. Although Jaguar Land Rover is seen as an employer of choice and attracts the cream of the crop, the shortage of qualified young talent is affecting our supply and the wider engineering sector.

The industry needs to attract more women into engineering to increase its talent pool and better represent our female customers. Jaguar Land Rover launched a course for female A-Level students earlier this year to showcase modern manufacturing, challenge address outdated misconceptions and introduce them to successful women engineer role models. Our apprentices and graduates also visit schools, colleges and universities across the country to promote STEM subjects and engineering and manufacturing careers.

The UK’s education system is still nowhere near good enough at training tomorrow’s top engineers, designers, technologists, scientists and inventors. This country’s wealth was built on pioneering the global industrial revolution. Yet it has forgotten many of those lessons that made the UK successful, not least the importance of making and creating things.

At the same time, other countries have moved ahead in strengthening their own positions, investing in engineers and entrepreneurs, following the example that Britain once set.

Jaguar Land Rover is Britain’s biggest investor in automotive research and development but without that continued supply of great young engineering and creative talent we cannot continue to prosper and innovate.

Over the last two years, we have created around 9,000 new jobs, spent roughly £10 billion in the UK supply chain and generated almost £25 billion in export revenues. We are a company with a strong heritage and fiercely ambitious plans to grow our global footprint.

We export around 85% of our products around the world, products created by our 8,000 engineers and designers. Last year alone, we recruited 2,200 apprentices and 310 graduates.

I believe we need collaboration between government, academia and industry, which is the foundation of Germany’s success. The Government needs to tackle the shortage of engineers in the UK to deliver increased numbers of graduates in engineering. It needs to make it a policy priority to increase the number of engineering graduates and develop the necessary policies and incentives to achieve it, including prioritising funding through universities.

Government should also prioritise measures to promote engineering and the image of manufacturing in schools. Jaguar Land Rover has been investing in its ‘Inspiring Tomorrow’s Engineers’ school education programme for more than a decade. The company runs Education Business Partnership Centres, national school STEM challenge competitions and supports various outreach events. More than two million young people have participated in the programme to date.  In 2012 alone, we engaged more than 200,000 young people including 25,000 young people and teachers who toured our manufacturing, design and engineering sites to gain real-world insights into curriculum-related subjects.

Our 7,000 engineers and designers here in the UK are a product of the education system here. They are inventing tomorrow’s world. But as our business expands, so too does our need for more engineers. And as our demands grow, so too do the demands of our suppliers. When we recruit a new wave of engineers, we attract the best. We want the supply of talent to be large enough to ensure that we do not take all of the available talent out there: we need our suppliers to be able to attract the best skills and abilities also. We need there to be enough people to go round.

It is why we are investing more than £100 million into the Warwick Manufacturing Group and moved about half of our research and advanced engineering staff – some 200 people so far – based on their campus, to work collaboratively on key new technologies. It has the UK’s largest electric hybrid power engineering team.

It is actively researching new lightweight composites for bodies, chassis and mechanical components. It is studying recycled aluminium – an area in which Jaguar Land Rover is already a world leader. We are the world leaders in advanced lightweight aluminium architectures for cars.

We are working with the University of Warwick regularly to help them tailor their courses to the real-world needs of industry, offering more valuable courses for their students and a greater chance of employment.

I am very excited to be working with Warwick as the principal sponsor of a new University Technical College.  The WMG Academy for Young Engineers will open in 2014 and be an integral part of our collaboration with the University, fostering the development of 14-18 year old aspiring engineers.

This is a brilliant example of the auto industry and academia working together to come up with tomorrow’s innovations. The group is supported by funding from the government’s Technology Strategy Board, making it a great example of state involvement, as well.

With this pace of growth, we are focussed on quality and creativity, both areas which cannot reach a pinnacle of excellence without a steady supply of strong engineers.

Creativity, of course, gives rise to industrial innovation. It is the harnessing and nurturing of this creativity – of this British creativity – that gives this country’s industry the edge, and enables it to be successful as it takes on the world.

Britain does have many world-class engineering companies, some small, some bigger – like Jaguar Land Rover. But our recent growth has proved that our technology partners and suppliers have struggled to access the right engineering skills they need to make a critical step up in growth and scale. They struggle to meet our demands and to get qualified staff.

I'm passionate about redressing that deficit. It is essential for this country’s prosperity, for this nation’s future, for the health of British industry and for the wellbeing of business everywhere.

Dr. Ralf Speth, is speaking at events during Responsible Business Week