As UK technology firm Dyson embarks upon a major recruitment drive both at home and abroad, its eponymous founder has bemoaned a stark shortage of engineers in Britain, saying it has become the “biggest barrier” to growth for his company.
Sir James Dyson said his company expects to employ a further 650 engineers globally this year following strong growth in revenue on the back of its new, hi-tech product lines.
Despite the Dyson's British roots, however, the company plans to recruit the majority of its new engineers in Asia, seeking 350 engineers for its plants in Singapore and Malaysia as compared to just 300 for its British base in Malmesbury.
Sir James says that while the company will have no problem sourcing engineers for its Asian operations, the same task will prove far tougher at home despite the smaller number of employees being sought.
"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."
Sir James said that Dyson has more than sufficient intellectual and technological wherewithal to employ greater staff numbers in Britain, but remains constrained by the realities of the local labour market.
"We would recruit 2,000 if we could. We have got the technology and ideas. We just need the people."
Sir James notes that Britain "produced 12,000 engineering graduates a year - and there are currently 54,000 vacancies. It's predicted that in two years time there will be 200,000 vacancies."
"India produces 1.2 million engineering graduates a year. The Philippines produces more than us, so does Iran, so does Mexico. It's not a sustainable situation."
He further noted that post-graduate engineering studies in the UK remain dominated by foreign nationals, who are unlikely to remain in Britain to use their training to contribute to the country's economy.
"More than 80 per cent of post-graduate science and engineering students are British universities are from outside the European Union and the percentage is growing."
"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."
While Sir James hailed government initiatives which seek to foster business incentives for the technology and engineering sector - such as new Patent Box legislation which provides tax breaks to companies who can develop patents locally, this has yet to translate into an increased number of aspiring engineers amongst Britons.
"We have very bright engineers and a good business environment. The problem is not enough people want to do engineering."