March 10, 2017 blog

Engineering: Opportunities for future growth

Engineers pinpoint the key sectors offering the most opportunities for growth as the UK negotiates the challenge of a new future outside the European Union

In collaboration with the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), Tata undertook research to better understand the future of engineering in the UK. The research comes at a critical time and highlights: the skills our engineers need; how best to inculcate those skills; the challenges that lie ahead for UK engineering; and which countries we can look towards for examples of good practice.

This article focuses on the opportunities for future growth; it contains two elements: the findings of a survey of engineers undertaken by Tata and IMechE; and insights provided via interviews. Download the full Insights Paper here.

As the challenge of negotiating a new future for ourselves outside the European Union lies ahead, it is more important than ever to invest in long-term catalysts for growth in engineering in the UK.  When Tata and IMechE asked engineers what they saw as the key sectors offering the most opportunities for growth, Energy (64%), Biomedical (42%) and Aerospace (38%) emerged as the top three sectors – with ICT and software a close fourth (35%). Power and energy also topped the list of sectors that engineers thought should be a focus for UK R&D (42%) as well as infrastructure investment driving value for the UK (73%).  Though almost a quarter of respondents worked in the power or energy sectors, the strength of consensus went beyond this.

The results didn’t surprise Julie Woods-Moss, President, Chief Innovation and Marketing Officer at Tata Communications. “We all need energy – it’s not just about powering heavy industry anymore. The digitisation of our lives still has a long way to go – our computers, our connectivity, our digitalised manufacturing industries will all rely on more and better use of energy to function. That will involve a lot of work and focused problem solving from engineers over the next 20 years – and it will facilitate the expansion of more of energy intensive digital infrastructure that we need, such as data centres.”

Woods-Moss welcomed the Government’s commitment to invest an additional £4.7 billion by 2020- 21 in research and development funding in the Industrial Strategy green paper. “I hope this funding helps to successfully commercialise our R&D.”

One surprise was that the biomedical sector ranked so highly as a UK opportunity sector, ahead of aerospace, manufacturing and IT. Nick Sale, Chief Operating Officer at Tata Technologies in Europe, offered an explanation.

“We’re on the cusp of an unprecedented era of personalised medicine, and even more exciting than that – certainly from an engineering perspective – are the possibilities on the horizon for human augmentation. Biomedical is a sector I can really see explode in the next ten years,” he said. “Look at the current generation of hearing aids, how small and practical they are and yet they can make a massive difference. It is not a huge leap to see them connecting to our mobile phones and other forms of technology.”

“As someone with a humanities background, the emphasis on biomedical surprised me,” said David Landsman, Executive Director of Tata Limited. “I wouldn’t necessarily assume that biomedical was a major engineering sector, but clearly that’s a matter of perception, not reality. We need to make sure that the breadth of engineering types are better understood, as well as the wide variety of careers there can be for a talented engineer.”

Landsman also believed the breadth of opportunities in the aerospace sector also represented the reasoning behind the sector’s high ranking on the survey. He added “The UK has become a global manufacturing hub in aviation but there are also exciting opportunities further afield in the commercial space flight sector which is worth 25 billion in the next 20 years.”

Automotive came in only fifth.  David Landman suggested an explanation: “Britain has a world-leading automotive sector, so we are already starting from a high base. The National Automotive Innovation Centre, which is being developed following support from a number of Tata companies, WMG (Warwick Manufacturing Group) and the government, will also help us to develop breakthrough designs and technologies that offer real growth opportunities for the sector.”

“We’re optimistic about the future of car-making in the UK,” said Lopes. “Yes, Jaguar Land Rover produce premium marques, but this is an attractive sector, and one capable of supporting thousands of engineering jobs now and in the future.” 

“The size and scale of the automotive supply chain in the UK is often underestimated, too,” added Sale. “It’s not just about car parts, important though those are. There’s also opportunity in the marketplace for applied engineering expertise and outsourced problem-solving – which is what we do for some of the world’s largest car makers. That kind of work is a major growth area, not just for Tata Technologies but for UK plc.”


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