I recently I had the pleasure of hosting at our first Transportation Dinner, led by Berwick Partners and Odgers Interim. The round table dinner brought together senior executives from across the transport spectrum, including representatives from Rail, Aviation and Highways. The diversity around the table added to the debate and a number of clear themes came through that were shared by all.
One of the key topics discussed was the apparent ‘brain drain’ within engineering as a whole over the past ten to twenty years and the resulting lack of talent now living in the UK. A number of our guests commented that as young graduates the engineering industry was a prestigious sector to enter. There were clear career paths with globally leading employers, and to gain a seat on a graduate programme or apprenticeship with ICI, British Rail, BAA or Rolls Royce was a great achievement.
Guests commented that the sheer size of these businesses offered opportunity as you were able to move within sectors and functions, all under the banner of one brand. Fast-forward to 2014 and many of these institutions have been broken up, privatised or sold. One guest commented that our future leaders are unlikely to have developed the sheer breadth of experience one might have developed 20 years ago with British Rail. There is very little movement between silos as businesses tend to focus on one core set of services.
The table mooted that as employers, they felt recent graduates had favoured more financially rewarding career paths. As one guest simply put it, nothing sufficiently high profile had been built in the past ten/twenty years to make engineering seem ‘sexy’.
This has all changed in recent years. Transportation has had something of a resurgence across the UK of late. We are building our way out of the recession with projects like Crossrail, the huge programmes at Gatwick and T5, and now HS2. Engineering is sexy again!
But is enough being done? The group felt that the onus was on the industry’s largest employers to make their businesses enticing to grads and apprentices alike. And to retain talent in the UK by giving the next generation the opportunity to be part of programmes like HS2. It was recognised that as head-hunters we too have a part to play. Partnering industry to attract and retain talent, but also to assist them in identifying the world’s best leaders and engineers to supplement our home grown talent.
Korinna Sjoholm works within Berwick Partners’ Energy, Manufacturing and Infrastructure practice, recruiting senior leaders within Infrastructure and the Built Environment nationally.