Financial Times, London. 10th November 2018.
The government’s Year of Engineering is drawing to a close. As we approach the end of this laudable campaign to inspire the next generation of engineers, we also approach the UK’s exit from the EU.
The government’s efforts to secure frictionless trade are not sufficient to guarantee the UK’s success post-Brexit. The UK also requires a diverse and populous pipeline of engineering talent. EngineeringUK reports that the UK has an annual shortfall of up to 110,000 engineers and technicians. Meanwhile, global competition for engineering skills continues to increase.
At YASA we make electric motors and power electronics for electric vehicles. Having spun out from Oxford university, we understand the importance of nurturing the UK’s young engineering talent and run a successful paid student placement programme. Engineering students from UK universities join us for one year as part of their degree, bringing energy, commitment and fresh ideas. To date, we’ve hosted 18 placements of which nine have returned to YASA as full-time employees after graduating.
Talking to these students, I hear the same reasons for choosing engineering — the opportunity to work on real-world problems, but also the potential to work abroad one day. Increasing the number of British students who chose a career in engineering is vital, but talent does not respect international boundaries. We cannot meet the growing demand for engineering skills with homegrown talent alone. Nor should we.
Some 7.7 per cent of the UK’s engineering workforce are EU nationals. Many come to the UK to study, and after graduating work here without restrictions. Post-Brexit, a significant number of these early-career engineers would not meet the government’s current salary threshold for residency of £30,000.
UK universities are world-class, attracting 50,000 international students to study engineering and technology alone. Should no realistic prospect exist of working in the UK after graduation, many may choose to study elsewhere. Our universities will be poorer for it.
2018’s Year of Engineering cannot succeed in a vacuum. If post-Brexit the UK is perceived as hostile to international talent, or introduces unrealistic residency requirements for highly skilled workers, it will inevitably harm our universities and hinder business and the public sector. Worse still, British engineers may vote with their feet and solve real-world problems elsewhere.
Dr Chris Harris
Chief Executive, YASA,
Yarnton, Oxon, UK
Published online by the FT: YASA Chris Harris Letter on Brexit (Paywall)