Wanted: 15,000 engineers

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The Independent Online
Britain's inward investment boom is under threat from a severe shortage of engineers.

Last week Land Rover, Vauxhall and TVR announced they were spending pounds 750m expanding production. The UK attracts the lion's share of foreign manufacturing investment in Europe.

But according to Mary Harris, director-general of the Year of Engineering Success, Britain needs twice as many engineers if it is to sustain current investment. The shortage is pushing engineering salaries up much faster than average pay.

Dr Harris says that between 30,000 and 35,000 new engineers are needed every year. The number of people accepting places for engineering and technology degrees has fallen from 21,300 in 1992 to 17,500 last year. After dropouts and leakage to other professions, Dr Harris said, "the best we can hope for eventually going into engineering is 12,000". The pattern is similar for HND courses.

"I believe the problem is the enormous number of people going into media or leisure studies courses," Dr Harris says.

The squeeze is already having an effect on salaries. A newly chartered engineer earned pounds 24,700 on average in 1989, pounds 31,800 in 1992 and pounds 36,000 now. Pressure has been increased by "poaching" from the US, where the skills shortage is even worse. Boeing is trying to recruit 5,000 engineers to move to Seattle. They will earn between pounds 50,000 and pounds 75,000 a year.

The Year of Engineering Success, which starts in January, is designed to improve the image of the profession. Dr Harris hopes that the pay figures might do much of the work for her.