The rise of the small engineering firm

In today’s job market, graduates and experienced engineers alike are being snapped up by the large engineering firms whose business is currently booming. Those companies include Jaguar Land Rover, who posted record sales month after month since January and have announced massive new investments, and BAE Systems, who’ve also recorded a rise in sales and profits, on the back of increased military spending by the Saudi and UK Governments.

It’s not hard for these large companies to recruit – they are well-known, prestigious brands that offer a decent package for their employees who get to work on multi-million-pound projects.
Smaller engineering firms struggle to compete, firstly, to build an awareness of their brand but secondly, to lure the skilled professionals away from the bigger players. Yet smaller and medium-sized engineering firms have a lot to offer.

Less hierarchy

“The landscape within a small or medium-sized firm and a huge multinational is vastly different,” explains Alistair Marshall, Associate Business Manager, at engineering recruitment specialists, Progressive Recruitment.

“In a large corporation, candidates may have the prestige of working for that company, and access to state of the art facilities, but they may also be a small cog in a very large wheel. They won’t necessarily be able to use their own initiative, at least not to start with. They won’t necessarily see the big picture of the whole project either, but only work on one small area of it.

“In a smaller firm, on the other hand, they are likely to be thrown in at the deep end. They’ll be joining a business where they can immediately put their own technical brains to use and design something from scratch. They are likely to be involved in the entire project and see and understand the bigger picture. In addition, larger organisations are likely to have certain systems and processes in place, whereas with a smaller firm, they have the chance to reinvent the wheel.

“The same is true of career progression; in a smaller firm you’re likely to have frequent access to directors. In tandem, smaller firms often have ambitious growth plans, leading to fast career progression.”

The excitement of new technology

There is no doubt that, in the current environment of ever-changing, fast-paced new technology, engineering is an exciting place to work. It’s a highly innovative space, and has seen a huge rise in start-ups.

“Let’s take embedded software and electronics, for instance,” says Alistair. “5G is coming, the connectivity of devices is where much of the innovation is happening now. Automation and new technology is driving the growth of startups.”

The UK Government is also lending a helping hand. Enterprise Zones were launched in April 2012 and are central to the Government’s plans to rebalance the economy, offering world-class infrastructure and top-class growth incentives.

Early April the Chancellor announced further expansion of the programme with the creation of three new zones in Cornwall, the Black Country and Leicestershire, and an extension to the existing Sheffield zone as part of the Budget.

According to the Government, Enterprise Zones have now attracted £2.4 billion of private investment and more than 600 new businesses across a range of key industries including the automotive, aerospace, pharmaceutical and renewable energy industry sectors.

The best of both worlds

Start-ups don’t necessarily stay that way. Larger companies are looking to them now to replace their own, expensive, R&D effort, investing in start-ups or even buying them outright. Emerald Automotive Design, an electric car start-up whose registered office is in Coventry, UK, specialises in the design, development and production of light-weight, low-emission and long-range commercial vehicles.

In 2014, it was bought by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group (Geely). Emerald Chief Executive, Andy Tempest, said in a prepared statement that the deal would secure Emerald's long-term future. "This is a fantastic opportunity, which will allow us to expand our current vehicle-development work in line with Geely Group's global vision."

Finding the right talent

Smaller companies have to work harder to attract talent – they simply don’t have the brand recognition or resources to launch massive recruitment campaigns.

“Recruitment firms are essential for finding these candidates,” explains Alistair. “Smaller firms won’t have the resources to recruit, they will run campaigns on LinkedIn and they will set up careers email addresses on their website but without consultancies they will almost never find the right people.

“We have a wider reach and more resources to find the skills that they need. We have state of the art technology and highly trained consultants whose full time job it is to finds these people.”

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