Where have all the electrical design engineers gone?
Jon Hawkins, Technical Director, Newbury Innovation - the electronic design division of Newbury Electronics - believes that there is a serious dearth of suitably qualified electrical design engineers and he is struggling to find the right candidates to join his team and enable him to grow the business.
"The problem is twofold: universities are not producing electrical engineers that really understand what is required in the commercial design and production environment; and, secondly, students considering possible careers don't really understand the potential, opportunity and variety of roles and industries which they could be employed in if they followed an engineering pathway. There needs to be far more communication between industry and education both at degree level and for those students making important decisions at younger ages," commented Jon.
Alongside Philip King, MD, Newbury Electronics, Jon has been building relationships with leading UK universities including Nottingham and Sheffield. This has involved visiting the relevant departments and talking with the students about what the industry requires from a newly qualified electrical engineer, alongside the obvious technical knowledge and understanding. They believe that there are three key attributes, namely:
- A passion for wanting to know more; and
- Attention to detail.
However, their collaboration at the University of Bath has gone one step further, with Newbury Electronics providing PCBs to two separate teams of students, one working on an electric car for the forthcoming Formula E Student race and the second on an electric motorcycle that will be racing on the world renowned Isle of Man TT Circuit in May. In addition to manufacturing the team's PCBs, Newbury Electronics also hosted a factory visit for the team members early this year.
"It was really useful to visit Newbury Electronics and get a real understanding of how much work is involved to produce one PCB. The university only has very basic production capabilities and we were amazed to see the investment in modern manufacturing and verification equipment that has been made by Newbury Electronics," said Robert Macgregor, a final year student and a member of the electric motorcycle development team.
As part of their support for the University, Jon has been making regular visits to the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering in Bath so that the students can draw upon his industrial knowledge and experience: "I have seen a number of the students on a regular basis over the last year or so and watched how they have developed both their knowledge but also a wider understanding of the commercial design and manufacturing environment. We are hopeful that at least one of them will consider joining our team once they have graduated and look forward to further involvement with the University in the future."
Alison Ukleja, Placement Manager, Faculty of Engineering and Design, University of Bath, said: "The support and involvement that we have had from Jon and Newbury Innovation has added another dimension to the course and the students are really positive about their experiences of talking and working with the company. We want our students to leave here able to contribute to the economy from day one of their career and Newbury's feedback on what they should expect and how they should prepare is extremely valuable. The University of Bath has one of the most comprehensive sandwich degree schemes in higher education with 60-80% of engineering students spending one year of their degree working in industry. We believe a work placement contributes significantly to a student’s development, preparing them for the workplace. Close collaboration with industry ensures our curriculum is relevant to employers and contributes to high employment statistics."
Call for more industry involvement
Jon Hawkins believes that the wider electronics industry could also do more to engage with the engineers of the future and is calling on all component, design and manufacturers to start engaging with their local schools, colleges and universities to see how they might be able to help: "It is no good us just moaning that we can't recruit the quality of staff that we need to continue to thrive in a competitive global market place. We all need to invest some of our time and experience in helping those currently undergoing training and education to reach their full potential which will in turn enable us to flourish."