Fast track: The firms that need graduates who can make it

Industry wants to attract more people with good degrees. By Paul Gosling
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The Independent Culture
THE SHORTAGE of good graduates going into manufacturing is causing concern to the Confederation of British Industries and top companies. But salaries in the sector continue to lag far behind some of those available in commerce and the professions.

"The general feeling is that not enough of the good and the best engineers are going into the manufacturing industry," says Liz Amos, director of the Foundation for Manufacturing. "That is an issue for manufacturing, especially for companies wanting to go into higher value added areas.

"We have a perception problem in manufacturing, which is still seen as the heavyweight industries like shipbuilding. But if you look at all parts of the manufacturing process then there is now a very high IT content going into engineered products, which moves value up the supply chain."

Part of the problem, concedes Ms Amos, is that manufacturing companies are not matching salaries available elsewhere. She gives the example of two bright Cambridge graduates who are going into consultancy on starting salaries of pounds 40,000. GKN says that its "gauge" starting salary for engineering graduates is pounds 16,000. British Steel starting pay is between pounds 16 and pounds 17,000. Smiths Industries talks of its `ball park' starting salaries being pounds 18- pounds 20,000.

Ms Amos says that another problem is that graduates are worried that it can take several years in manufacturing before they are given jobs with responsibility, or promotion. She argues that if more universities focused on practical problem-solving in their courses, rather than desk- bound learning, then engineering would be seen as a more exciting and attractive career.

The CBI believes that manufacturing does not deserve its occasionally dour image. "Graduates should look long and hard at manufacturing as it is now, rather than its image of the early Eighties," says Fiona Underwood, head of the CBI's manufacturing group. "It is now a very high-tech industry. There was a period when jobs and promotion were sluggish, but the opportunities now are quite wide and varied."

Fiona Kellington, human resources executive at Smiths Industries, says that her company is stressing the exciting opportunities in the engineering sector. "We cover such a wide area, with medical, chemical and engineering sides," she explains. "We always have opportunities for graduates, and train people internally on our high-fliers' programme. This brings people through the system quickly, and we appoint our directors internally from that group. There is excellent career progression, and opportunities to move around.

"Mechanical engineers can be anywhere in the group, from working on the new Boeing, to developing new medical equipment in the medical division."

Sharon Goymer, graduate recruitment administrator for GKN, says that while it is looking for engineers, it only wants people who have good degrees: "We have our own graduate training programme, with the majority of entrants being engineers with mechanical, manufacturing, production, aeronautic or aerospace engineering degrees. We are quite strict, and normally only take people with a 2.2 degree or above.

"The number we recruit does vary year to year, and we are taking on 35 this year. But if we see other good people we will take them on. We put the graduates into hard core engineering, giving them jobs that need to be done. From day one it is straight in. They will be undertaking a range of different engineering jobs, so that they become broad engineers.

"We allocate mentors from different line companies to all trainees. The idea is that this is a fast track into very senior management in a short period of time. The salary is down to an individual's potential, and can be anything."

British Steel recruits about 170 graduates a year, and is still taking on graduates for this year's training programme. It employs a mix of graduates with degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering, material sciences or metallurgy, chemistry, some chemical engineers, and a few physicists, as well as some finance, management and marketing graduates.

Ann Bailey, head of education and training affairs at the Engineering Employers Federation, says that it is now up to the industry to prove itself an attractive option to graduates if it is to recruit the skills it needs: "It has to show graduates that engineering is changing and that the skills that it needs are going to be critical."

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