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back to article Blighty promises £49m to get more British yoof into engineering careers

The British government plans to spend £49m on trying to encourage kids into engineering to make up the skills shortage in the industry. Professor John Perkins, chief scientific advisor to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), said that Blighty needed to "substantially increase the supply of engineers" in a …

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Anonymous Coward

It's a sad state in the UK

Once a nation of engineers that industrialised the world where now the only engineering you seem to find is in museums.

IKB must be spinning in his grave.

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Re: IKB must be spinning in his grave.

But knowing him he will be doing at at some hitherto impossible rate!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's a sad state in the UK

obviously high tech engineering companies like Rolls-Royce would disagree with you regarding the museums part

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's a sad state in the UK @AC 15:19

Obviously you were born after Thatcher. Britain had a lot more engineering companies and expertise before then, hell we used to even make successful civil airliners all by ourselves such as the BAE 146, BAC 1-11 etc. We also had our own capability to build nuclear reactors ourselves until BNFL sold off Westinghouse. My father was in charge of the factory that manufactured the graphite reactor cores for Britain's last home made nuclear stations - the AGRs. That factory is now houses.

Oh and for your information Rolls-Royce has just opened a Singapore factory, in a few years watch the Derby factory become houses while production gradually moves to the far east.At least they might save some space at Derby for a RR museum.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's a sad state in the UK @AC 15:19

Obviously I was born well before Thatcher actually, worked at Rolls Royce during Thatchers time (and after), and still know many people there. Yes I know they have a factory in Singapore, but they also have opened much larger factory in Derby. The core skill set is located in the UK and, despite acquisitions in various other countries (european and asian) over the last 20 yrs, that hasn't changed to any significant degree. Check you facts.

What the UK used to do and what the previous poster was hinting at are two different things. The fact remains that high quality engineering *is* present in the UK. Despite what the doomFUDDers on here would have you believe ...

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Boffin

Re: It's a sad state in the UK @AC 18.49

You may wish to read this house of Commons briefing, it makes for grim reading.

http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/sn01942.pdf

Manufacturing output @ 2012 prices :

1997 £197bn

2012 £139.3bn

Please do your research and engage brain before opening mouth then may be next time you won't look so foolish or blinkered.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's a sad state in the UK @AC 18.49

Indeed, do your research and actually read what I had to say. High quality engineering does happen in the UK. Those figures and that report do nothing to contradict that. You are indeed looking very blinkered, not actually reading what someone who works and has worked in such an engineering company has to say. Engage brain please

Another doomFUDDer

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I have to say - pessimistic though it sounds - that the best advice I would give to my younger self is to forget about engineering as a career and emigrate. This applies even more so in the modern age.

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The Prof is absolutely right

Where I work at $MEGACORP engineers are lower paid than managers or sales people.

I just spent a whole year sorting out an impossible system that some idiot sold. I got it working. All I got was my salary. The idiot got a huge bonus for selling it, despite that it cost us nearly twice as much to get working as we made on the sale. He got the bonus last year, and there is no way of taking it off him.

Two ideas:

* Engineers should not be lumbered with student loans. If the country needs engineers, the country should train them.

* Engineers pay should always be higher than the pay of people who merely sell things.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Prof is absolutely right

Catch 22 :

No good if you can make something great but can't sell it.

No good if you are a great salesman but have nothing to sell.

I agree with you, I'm an industrial chemist where the pay is shite. I make better money in Lab sales.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Prof is absolutely right

"Where I work at $MEGACORP engineers are lower paid than managers or sales people."

If there's a shortage of engineering skills, why haven't salaries gone up?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Prof is absolutely right

bugs the feck out of me the people who design the thing get paid less than the bean counters and the people who sell it.

I'd like to see students who study BEng, B.Sc or Medicine be exempt from course fee's. If you want to study Media studies or the such you pay for it!

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Re: The Prof is absolutely right

If there's a shortage of engineering skills, why haven't salaries gone up?

No shortage of managers and they get paid far more.

Economic theory - just that, except disproved. And bankers get paid billions to enforce it!

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Re: The Prof is absolutely right

An great engineer can create something great and sell it once.

A great salesman can take junk, and sell it over and over again.

I'm guessing this is the same as our 'IT shortage', where the shortage is highly skilled and experienced people willing to work for peanuts?

Simple supply and demand. If there really was a shortage, the wages would rise until demand was met. I don't know about engineers, but I'm still on the same rate as I was in 2005.

I suspect they fully know about supply and demand, and want an oversupply to reduce wage demand.

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Roo
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Re: The Prof is absolutely right

"If there's a shortage of engineering skills, why haven't salaries gone up?"

That's the question I ask. If there really is a shortage then any of the following could apply.

1) Labour arbitrage (ie: 20% of engineering jobs go to immigrant labour), I suspect this wouldn't be a problem if employment laws were adequately enforced.

2) Market manipulation, a few big firms can agree on hiring policies that drives down costs. For example a number of organisations offer their contractors "take 10% pay cut or walk" every Xmas. In the US organisations are known to have agreed not to poach each other's staff - again distorting the market.

3) Recession (several of them in fact).

4) Conspiracy :)... In 'Rightpondia' Engineers tend to be classed as "swots" and are therefore often seen as a threat to the authority of people who are not engineers (I'll call them dullards from now on). The dullards who manage to bow, scrape and backstab their way to the top of the pile compensate for their inferior productivity by ensuring the engineers are paid less. This benefits them in two ways: firstly it helps them feel better about themselves (I'm worth more so I'm better) and secondly the relative differences in income ensure that the next generation of Engineers are poorer and less influential than the next gen Dullards. There are some affluent Engineers - but you'll find that in the main they got rich by being their own boss. :)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Prof is absolutely right

"No shortage of managers and they get paid far more."

So join the dark side, then. If you think that you're not valued as an engineer (developer, insert trade of choice) then move into selling or mangement, or whatever trade you consider has lower barriers to entry and higher rewards than the thing you currently do.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Prof is absolutely right

" There are some affluent Engineers - but you'll find that in the main they got rich by being their own boss"

And in being their own boss they took on the role of head of sales and chief operating officer, and probably paid somebody else to actually engineer the products day to day. Which rather suggests that there's real value in the sales and management activity, and may explain why these roles are (sometimes) well paid in many firms.

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Unhappy

Re: The Prof is absolutely right

I couldn't move into sales if I wanted too. I wouldn't be able to lie that much.

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Roo
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Re: The Prof is absolutely right @ AC 4NOV 15:31

"And in being their own boss they took on the role of head of sales and chief operating officer, and probably paid somebody else to actually engineer the products day to day."

In some cases, yes, but not all.

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"why haven't salaries gone up"

It is all very simple. Sales people & managers are good at selling themselves and articulating their value, engineers are not.

Sales people are seen as revenue generators. They bring in sales which are on the "income" side of the spreadsheet. Companies like to increase income so it is relatively easy for companies to think that by spending more they will be getting more.

Engineers are typically seen as expenses. They always turn up on the "costs" side of the spreadsheet. Costs are BAD we want to reduce those.

The trick is to be able to tie your actions to the bottom line of the company. For example, if you can show that last year you identified and fixed problem that saved the company $5M then you have a much stronger case for pushing for a larger salary.

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Roo
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Re: "why haven't salaries gone up"

"It is all very simple. Sales people & managers are good at selling themselves and articulating their value, engineers are not."

I once worked at a place that was headed by a bunch of Salesmen. Shortly before I decided to leave I saw that bunch of Salesmen gathered in a office having a heated discussion with a customer over the phone concerning a product that was techincally impossible to build because it defied the laws of Physics.

They knew this because every engineer they asked told them that was the case, the head of production at the customer site told them it was impossible too, yet they still sold it. At the end of the call the MD (Salesman) slammed the phone down, punched a hole through the (plasterboard) office wall shouted a lot and shortly afterwards gave the salesmen a pay rise. Just a month later (after the Salesmen had been paid) they company ran out of money to pay the engineers, allegedly the salesmen were still paid. This went on for 3 months before the company finally died.

Sure in hindsight it's obvious they were bleeding the company dry after the Salesman MD's monumental fuck up, but none of that was really necessary. They had products they could sell and customers who wanted to buy the stuff, they just needed someone with a clue to direct the company and ensure that Salesmen actually paid attention to stuff like profit margins and feasibility.

So getting back on topic: While Salesmen may be helpful for landing sales, they really need to be managed by someone with a clue just in case they learn to love the smell of their own BS.

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Go

The status of Engineers.

Methinks a great deal of the problem is the whole public perception of Engineering.

Too many people think that the guy who comes to fix your boiler is an Engineer, when "fitter" would be the kindest description.

We need to get back to a situation where "Engineer" is a recognised professional title only granted after a recognised period of study assessment and achievement (and followed by continuous professional development) - like Doctor or Brigadier or Professor, as it is in Germany etc.

"Herr Doktor Engineer" has some clout in the rest of the world; "Sanitary engineer" just makes the profession look incurably devalued.

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Re: The status of Engineers.

I quite agree; Engineer = someone who designs things. The rest of Europe manages to understand the differences between mechanics and engineers...

Also.

Removing the sex and name for careers advice would (where possible) would level the playing field, and remove some of the bias. That coupled with 'dry run'/less detailed careers advice to a younger age should plant the seeds for later.

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Re: The status of Engineers.

Its quite a surprise abroad when you tell someone you are an engineer they actually treat you with some sort of respect.

Over here, say you're an engineer and they may just think you fit washing machines, for all the devaluing the name has got in this country.

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Re: The status of Engineers.

> We need to get back to a situation where "Engineer" is a recognised professional title only granted after a recognised period of study assessment and achievement (and followed by continuous professional development) - like Doctor or Brigadier or Professor, as it is in Germany etc.

Or maybe "chartered"?

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Re: The status of Engineers.

I worked for a company with a German parent company; their IT Manager insisted that I call him "Herr Dokter" despite us both being at the same managerial level.

When I pointed out that my Master's degree outranked his qualification, he was not overly happy. Even more so once I pointed out that he didn't even have a First degree, just the German equivalent of an ONC.

But yes; we need to have more consensus on using descriptive titles appropriately.

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Re: The status of Engineers.

That happens here - but there are downsides.

To get the "engineer" title new grads have to serve years as an engineers-in-training and so work for a company with an engineering training program. That means new eng grads can be paid peanuts by large companies because if they don't jump through these extra hoops they wasted their degree.

Startups can't hire engineers because they don't have their own chartered engineers to sign off on the training.

Want to employ a maths PhD as a software engineer? You can't.. Want to hire that American CS grad from MIT/Stanford, you can't because they don't qualify.

The result is that all 'engineers' immediately jump to management, because managers (especially in the public service) have to be professionals. You also get a majority of people doing the softest 'engineering' course they can find - usually environmental eng - so that they can become civil servants.

While the actual technical work is outsourced or off-shored.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The status of Engineers.

Unfortunately, Engineers will never have the public professional status here in the UK because a substantial proportion of them work for the weapons industry. Is it time for a Hippocratic Oath for engineers?

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Re: The status of Engineers.

As an engineer who designs and makes things, I could not support the idea of a professional oath that defines who or what I am. As an engineer you may choose not to apply your skills on projects you disagree with, but that is a personal choice and it is not up for anyone other than me to make it.

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Coat

Re: The status of Engineers.

It doesn't help that the BBC will insist on calling everyone involved with technology, Engineers (e.g. the skillful line crews repairing overhead lines after the latest storm) and having their "Science" Correspondent discuss engineering projects (e.g. Crossrail). Of course Construction always equals housebuilding.

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Comparative Advantage

"... the UK was currently relying on immigration to pick up the slack ..."

That's the problem though. Why should I study a hard degree for many years, only to have to compete against 1.2 billion Indians? Much easier to study something like Law, or even a "soft" subject like History or English, where there is no competition from immigrants. It's called Comparative Advantage. If the good Prof had studied a soft subject like Economics, he might have heard of it.

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Re: Comparative Advantage

Well dont do law - Indian law is very similar to ours and to cross over is pretty simple. But if you do do law and want to make money you will go to India.

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Anonymous Coward

"26 per cent of engineering graduates do not go into engineering or technical professions"

I'm surprised its that low, from my experiences and talking to colleagues from the same University as me, I would have pegged the number at nearer 40%.

I also doubt that number includes the people that do go into such professions, then realise there's very little opportunities for career development or getting a decent salary, and get out again.

While I'm fully aware that anecdotes != data, there IMO isn;t that much of a shortage of Engineering graduates. What there is a shortage of is UK companies prepared to offer decent salaries to entice newly graduated engineers and support and develop them.

Yes the bigger companies offer well paid grad schemes (JLR, Rolls Royce, BAE, Atkins etc), and unsurprisingly enough there is a hell of a lot of competition for those. If however you don't get onto one of them, then its nigh on impossible to crack your way into a decent engineering job. Many companies simply aren't prepared to take the perceived "risk" of employing someone unproven.

The few companies that are often offer salaries so low that you'd be better off working at McDonalds (I would have done better financially for the first 4 years of my career on the McDonalds graduate manager program than in the engineering roles I was applying for, and indeed the ones I took).

Otherwise, engineering firms all want people who have been there, done it etc, and without the requisite "minimum 5 years experience" you don't stand a look in. Some engineering roles I applied for wanted 10 years experience to do a job that wouldn't overstretch most apprentices!

Allied to that is the comparative non-existence of "technical expert" career progression - i.e. to get more money and responsibility most UK companies want you to become a management/commercial/MBA type, and just being a leading expert in your field apparently only justifies below inflation pay rises.

How you go about changing this situation I don't know, but to say that there is a shortage of people coming out of education when the industry cannot even effectively utilise what is already there is a joke. It just shows that for all the various people (Dyson et. al.) bleating away, none of them are prepared to put their money where their mouths are...

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The figures are normally from university careers services - and they typically only track the first job after graduating and they don't include people who don't work form $MEGACORP$ who return surveys.

It used to be a classic statistic that Chem Eng grads earned more than anyone else. Simply because all Chem Engs immediately got a job with the company the careers service sent them to, and their starting salary was above average.

When you tracked how much they earned over their career - it doesn't make sense to do a technical job.

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Anonymous Coward

Nothing new here, please move along the Dole Queue!

I graduated in 1975 with an Hons Deg in Mech Eng. Many of my compatriates even back then found it hard to get a job. I struggled to find a job because I went to a Poly and not a University. Companies would rather employ someone with a 3rd in some irrelevant subject straight out of University than me with a 1st AND an Apprentiship.

I moved abroad where Enginners are appreciated. Now I'm close to retirement and still find HR departments wanting to grill me about things I did when I was 20 years old. Such as 'Why didn't you go to University?'

Nothing about the fact that I have run my own company that had a turnover of more than 5M GBP before it was taken over by another larger German company.

I'm only working now because I tried retirement and got bored.

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Poly 2

I also went to a Poly and my employer (now BT) sponsored me to take HND. I then had to leave employment to get onto the CEI Pt2c course to get onto the C.Eng route. Got that and have the post-nominals. I did at least find a company that respected the qualifications and I was part of an r&d group full of well qualified people. But that was because the parent company was a well-known Japanese organisation that respects engineers and continues to do so.

I don't know why it is that so many engineering companies do not understand that highly qualified engineering staff may be expensive, but are the creative force that makes many a company tick. Accountants and managers do not create wealth, only re-distribute it (and then take the credit).

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Heard it all before...

I've heard this sort of rubbish for years. People like the CBI complain bitterly about lack of skilled graduates, but when pushed to indicate what pay they offer their engineering graduates they give a figure that anyone coming from accountancy would die laughing at. Also many companies do not have a separate advancement route for engineering. If you do not wish to become a manager you will find yourself in a few years overseen by some spotty faced MBA graduate who is earning twice as much despite having no technical knowledge. Not only that but the R&D departments are almost always the 1st to be hit when the company hits financial downturn.

Companies rely to much on engineering graduates being dedicated to their job. If they really care about their graduate intake what they should really do is increase graduate salaries, provide long term protection for R&D budgets and increase the prestige and kudos of being an engineer. It works in Germany who seem to be quite good at engineering

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A friend when trying to decide whether to do medicine or engineering looked at the staff car parks of a big respected engineering company and the local hospital.

He did medicine.

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So he did hospital administration and accounting?

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Where has all the money gone.

Sadly I can see most of this umpteen millions pounds being spent on futile gestures like publicity campaigns and endless commitees etc. You know, projects where the brown nose brigade can get to spend money on themselves or through their companies. I suspect very little of this will ever get into the pockets of young engineers. Call me cynical but i have seen far too many 'schemes' that have been set up that were essentially ways for the rich to skim off as much money as they could without being caught at it. What;'s the betting that the first thing they do is set up a quango to look into how to spend this money! They will probably have to visit lots of other countries to determine which is the best way to help and then conclude that the most 'exciting' solution is to provide every kid with a Rasberry Pi.

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Waste of money

Until the culture changes from sales driven nothing will change. Techies and Engineers (I am both) will be underpaid w.r.t. the value they add to the company. At the moment the PERCEIVED value is all in Sales as they supposedly bring money in. The fact that without the Techies & Engineers they wouldn't have anything to sell is irrelevant. So, all the brainier kids are going into Sales & Banking rather than IT & Engineering. Way more money in it. Blagging and bullsh!tting are the skills you need in today's employment marketplace.

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Boffin

Re: Waste of money

I am a reasonably well respected engineer, I hold several patents on manufacturing technologies and prior to starting my own firm was aggressively sought after by recruiters, government agencies both foreign and domestic and to this day still get occasionally approached about going into someone else's employee. The biggest reason I've had a reasonable amount of career success is because I'm not only a fairly good engineer, I'm also a fairly good salesman.

There is no such thing as a product that sells itself and there's no such thing as an engineering department if the company isn't generating revenue. It's the sales team that bring in all the money operational departments spend. You know your paycheck? Thank the salesmen at your company, without them you wouldn't have a job.

Sales isn't all about money either. A good engineer must be able to sell his ideas to managers and colleagues too. If you can't sell your ideas then you'll never get to express your creativity or run a project the way you'd like. You'll always be following the orders of the engineer that can sell.

It's a failing among engineers, scientists and software developers that they never wade into the humanities as they should and stay limited to the 'nuts and bolts'. The nuts and bolts part of engineering is only 1/3 of the total of the field. It's those other 2/3 that separate technicians from engineers. They fail to see that anything they're doing is 100% tied to people and how can you create something useful or desirable if you don't understand the customer/end user? You can't.

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Nobody here is talking about education ...

We used to run education from post-16 to degree level. Even basic C&G taught machining to tolerance with feeler gauges and everything.

We do not teach engineering in F&HE any more, we teach design. One designer requires 250 production and manufacturing engineers (ok that ratio may not be accurate!) FE is not paid by the education funding councils to run practical engineering courses so don't run them. Kids are taught at my local College from 14 but they cannot progress above level 2 as there's no funding for it and the people who teach it have in most cases, never used or even seen the equipment they are teaching "skilled engineers" to use! Yes, your car may be welded up by someone who has got all the qualifications but has never has one of his welds strength or penetration tested because the lecturer didn't know anything about it ... that's scary.

On the other hand, when it comes to jobs, a local engineering company has been crying out for workers on the tv and in the press etc. They can't find them ... shock horror! Despite offering a 40 hour week with mandatory overtime of which the first hour may be unpaid, shift work, nominally five but six or seven days per week as required with 15 days holiday per year and you are even allowed to buy your own overalls and boots in your own time ... all at basic minumum wage. For that you must be trained to level three, which isn't taught locally, and fully conversant with their machinery and practices ... Engineering isn't all working at Rolls Royce ... you could and can get paid more as an unqualified cleaner ...

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Anonymous Coward

"Yes, your car may be welded up by someone who has got all the qualifications but has never has one of his welds strength or penetration tested because the lecturer didn't know anything about it ... that's scary."

No offense but I call FUD on that - I deal with a lot of qualified / coded welders, I did a quick cross section, all say that their welds were strength and penetration tested, even the ones that did part time evening classes at local colleges, and that they could not have qualified without these tests being done...

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Reading too much into El Reg subtitle, but...

It seems to be fairly widely accepted that this point of view is the reason for the decline in people studying Engineering. The perception of Engineering is way out of date for most people.

A 'grease monkey' is a mechanic.

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Anonymous Coward

Status, Appreciation & Money

1. British Gas ad at the moment is suggesting that you call them if you want a boiler engineer. The ASA is not interested in resolving this as British Gas should be referring to a boiler technician. As a result, and perhaps imperceptibly, engineering status is driven down.

2. As many others have already said, engineers aren't paid their worth.

3. My son had (may still have) an inclination towards engineering. Without directly saying no, I've steered him to a non-engineering course at university which will give him more options, I hope. With hard work and a bit of luck he'll be better off than I ever was. I should have followed my first choice to be a vet.

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Supply and demand

Economics might suggest that if the salaries went up then the supply would increase but that's far too simplistic to match actuality. I loved science and engineering growing up through the sixties at a time when the feats of good engineering were widely celebrated in popular culture, particularly of course the buzz around the moon landings. As well as cultural encouragement there was practical encouragement via government sponsored training schemes - a levy was laid on the larger companies that hired engineers to reinvest in training and most of them had their own training centres, taking on and sponsoring students through their university courses. This was at the time of the Labour government's "white heat of technological revolution" rhetoric.

As a result I was a student sponsored by Plessey, doing something close to a kind of graduate-cum-apprenticeship scheme where I was paid a stipend during my university time plus the fact that I didn't have to take out a loan to pay for my course and my accommodation. I (amazingly) actually managed to run a car and live a frugal but adequate existence during my four years. The concept that I might not have a job waiting for me at the end of my studies was simply not present. I can't think of a single one of my contemporaries who weren't going straight into a job when they graduated. Society and the jobs market just felt organised that way.

There was an obvious career progression from junior engineer through to senior roles with plenty of opportunity to cross over into sales and management if you showed talent for it.

I don't see that in place nowadays. As a result, the substantial investment that one has to do (studying allegedly 'hard' subjects. i.e maths and physics at GCSE and A level, taking an allegedly 'hard' degree) for no guaranteed outcome, that looks like a MUCH higher-risk option. And in the UK, social prestige of engineering is nil and the salaries are nothing special. Why would a sane person make that decision? The government chucking some cash around may persuade a few at the margins but that's not the same as changing the whole approach and perception of the career.

Yes, it could be done, but there's a lot of inertia in the channel and it's probably a ten to fifteen year project to turn it around so that it becomes a sane and exciting decision for 15-17 year olds who are making whole-career choices. Most people will only make that kind of decision once in their lives, it is going to have to look very appealing to make it worthwhile.

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If the government were serious about improving the situation they'd start by diverting a small fraction of the hundreds of billions of our money they're passing to the banks, but I guess they have to get their priorities right.

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Paris Hilton

Let me see now ... <reaches for calculator>

45 million you say? Aha...

That will be 40 million for the central procurement operation and national management services division.

So in Year One we will aim for 5, no 4, repeat 4 divisional offices with running costs at a million each leaving one million of the budget in semi-surplus.

That one million in surplus will be used in third quarter of Year One (technically tho still Year Zero) on a 50/50 basis for end user advancement/progression and direct surplus for just-in-case contingencies.

No?

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Flame

I actually work

at the sharp end of engineering

In a sub-contract manufacturing facility.

This money will do **** all to supply us with the skilled people we need to make the extremely complex parts we're getting from the customers(as well as the simple stuff also sent to us)

What we need is school leavers with a mechanical aptitude who can do basic maths and english as well... not much to ask for... or better still , we can poach staff from other companies....

But there are'nt any

Why?

Because the goons in charge of the CBI who bleat about skills shortages are the same ****ing twats who cut the training programs out at the first sign of it may affect the value of their share options.

So theres less and less highly skilled robotic programmers out there.

And the learning takes ages. 4 yrs apprenticing, and 4-5 yrs post-apprenticeship? but its all 'put the part in, press the start button ' you cry... and I'd expect you'd be happy having a 16 yr old do heart surgery because 'its just a bit of cutting and stitching'

And the pay is shit too

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