'Grow your own': One firm's plan to boost engineers

Student and boss with Renault Twizy vehicle Sevcon engineering boss Matt Boyle with one of the firm's sponsored students Ehshan Dehghan-Azad

When engineering company chief executive Matt Boyle wanted to hire more electronic and software engineers last year, he was unprepared for how frustrating it would turn out to be.

His firm, Sevcon, makes control systems for electric vehicles, among them the Renault's zero-emission Twizy, launched this year.

"We are one of the UK's best kept secrets," Mr Boyle told BBC News.

Sevcon is a global company, billed as a world leader in the design, manufacture and marketing of electric motor control systems for electrically powered vehicles.

Founded in 1961, it employs more than 100 people in Gateshead and has a presence on four continents - but hiring more engineers proved a frustrating struggle.

Matt Boyle willingly admits he had to scour the globe to find the seven he recruited last year. In the end he hired just two Britons, along with two Indians, a Chinese national and a Colombian.

One of the first things you see on the firm's website is a box inviting skilled engineers to visit the careers section.

"I don't have the opportunity to grow the workforce in the way I need to because there are simply not enough engineering graduates available," says Mr Boyle.

"The graduates aren't coming through. The UK is not producing enough engineers and those we do produce are not always of good enough quality. I am in a place where growing your own is often the best way of doing it."

Fees 'lifeline'

Sevcon has set aside a total of £200,000 to sponsor eight students through engineering degrees at Newcastle and Northumbria universities over the next four years.

They get their tuition fees paid and work at Sevcon during the university holidays. Providing they pass all their exams, they will be offered jobs at Sevcon once they graduate.

"At the end of it, they are asked to give us 12 months," says Mr Boyle.

"We hope that once they have been up here, worked and studied here, loved us for who we are and what we do, they will want to stay. It's a good investment for us.

"The potential opportunities for our business are tantalising and we need skilled staff to help us achieve that."

The first student on the scheme has described the offer to pay his fees as a lifeline. Ehshan Dehghan-Azad, 26, is in the second year of a master's degree in engineering at Newcastle University.

"This is very important to me. It gives me peace of mind knowing that I have a job at the end of my studies. This award really helps and means I will not always have to worry about money," he said.

Aside from the shortage of quality engineering graduates some opt for other careers. Two graduates offered jobs by Sevcon in the past two years instead decided to become investment bankers.

"It's par for the course. Some people see engineering as a route to other jobs - but we would like to keep some engineers," says Mr Boyle.

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