March 10, 2017 blog

Engineering: International comparisons

The UK is a world engineering leader, and it's vital for UK plc that it stays that way. Respondents of a survey conducted by The Institute of Mechanical Engineers and Tata identify the countries to look to for inspiration

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 international comparison; 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.

The UK is a world engineering leader, and it’s vital for UK plc that we stay that way. So, who do we look to for inspiration? Almost two thirds of survey respondents said that that Germany produced the best engineers (followed by Japan and the USA, at just 7% each, and South Korea on 4%).

The reasons for this overwhelming preference for Germany are well known: a strong vocational and technical educational system, greater respect for and understanding of the role of the engineer (or Ingenieur, from the same root as ‘ingenious’), protected status for the engineering profession, and a diversified industrial strategy that has focused for several decades on building the industrial and advanced engineering capacities of several key German cities.

When it came to countries with the best industrial strategies, Germany again came top (81%), but China (40%), Japan (36%) and South Korea (29%) also scored well. When asked about the contributing factors to a strong industrial strategy in these countries, our engineering respondents gave a variety of answers; from ‘taking a long term view, not just what returns can be achieved within two years’, to a ‘focus on technical education’, ‘a better work ethic’, ‘better appreciation of the value of engineering to the economy’ and ‘cheaper and more technically proficient labour’ as key reasons for these countries’ engineering strengths.

David Landsman, Executive Director of Tata Limited, saw a clear correlation between the highest ranked countries and established global brands. “Iconic brands, such as Jaguar Land Rover, create and sustain a wider ecosystem that generates jobs; they are also a magnet for talent.  Countries that are able to grown and support these engineering flagbearers are able to help empower the industry.

Julie Woods-Moss President, Chief Innovation and Marketing Officer at Tata Technologies, believes that the UK can learn a lot from Singapore’s approach to their industrial strategy. She explains, “Singapore looks at emerging technologies, such as 3D printing, and provides incentives and government support to select regions to support the growth of these sectors or niches. In the UK we could look at growing nascent technologies and industries through business led Local Enterprise Partnerships and Enterprise Zones.  MediaCity in Salford is a good example of this working in the UK.”

One surprise was that only 18% of the engineers believed that the US had one of the best Industrial Strategies. Nick Sale, Chief Operating Officer at Tata Technologies in Europe, commented, “The US is a fascinating enigma. They can create the world greatest jet planes, they can create space shuttles but yet in areas, like the automotive sector, they are struggling.

He adds “America has been the exemplar of embracing people and giving anyone the opportunity to be successful.  Elon Musk of Tesla is from South Africa; Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, is from India; and Sergei Brin, Co-founder of Google, is from Russia. They are testament to the success of America’s melting pot culture.  Anything that could compromise this culture would be detrimental to US engineering.


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