‘It's a really interesting job. I get to create something. I also really like what we make as well – the products are really good… It’s the perfect place to be because we design and build our own products.’
Job: Printed Circuit Board (PCB) Design Engineer.
Typical hours worked: 37.5.
Profile: John is in his 30s and lives with his wife and two young children in Wiltshire.
After graduating with a degree in Electronic and Communication Engineering, I came back to my hometown. I was after any work, so I started a temp job working with PCBs as a Repair Technician. I stayed with the company for about six years, working my way up, moulding the job into something professional whilst the engineering department grew. I became the de facto Senior Engineer, but it was still a dead-end job working on the same products day in day out, so I decided to go somewhere else with more prospects and better pay.
I moved to a company that designs telematics devices which track vehicles via GPS. They offered to train me to be a PCB Designer. I did that job for five years before I was made redundant due to Brexit.
My next job was with a consultancy firm that made electronics, often for the defence sector. That didn’t gel with my personal morals, and I never really liked working there, even though the pay was good. I was, again, made redundant, this time as a result of the pandemic. Fortunately, I went straight into my job my current job, and I’ve been here for around 18 months.
My working day
My organisation designs high end audio HiFi equipment. I work in its Research and Development department which is made up of various engineers. We’re fairly unique in this type of business because we have a lot of on-site manufacturing. We have a factory and do a lot of the assembly for the units and repairs. It’s a full lifecycle company. There are about a hundred people who work here and a dozen or so in my department. I work with mechanical engineers (who design the aesthetics, the boxes), firmware and apps engineers, but most of the department are electronic or hardware engineers.
I predominantly design the actual circuit layouts onto printed circuit boards using computer aided design (CAD) tools. This ranges from brand new designs to revising and editing legacy products. This could include redesigning existing boards to fit into new products. For instance, you could have two pieces of equipment that actually do the same job, but they’re presented in a different package, so you’d then need a different PCB inside because it could be a completely different shape. We might need to split them up into multiple PCBs and put them together in a certain way and interconnect them even if they do the same things as a piece of equipment that only has one PCB.
Technology is always moving forward, and things need to be updated. For example, some of our units have got HDMI boards, little daughter boards, in them, which are small modular boards that attach into the main unit. As we up the standards for HDMI so it can support new features, the daughter boards will need to be updated with new chips and layouts as well, even if it's essentially an identical board, it will just be a replacement for the old one but do something slightly better, and I’ll make that happen.
It's normally a nine-to-five kind of job working in the office, although I can work from home once a week. There’s some flexibility – we can start or finish a little early or take a shorter lunch break to make up time. Even then, there’s a bit of an expectation that you should be working longer. Lots of people do that because they really love their jobs but that’s never really been me. I don’t just keep working into the evening.
When I joined, I had a four-month-old and I needed to leave at 5pm to pick him up from nursery. I made my intentions clear, and they were absolutely fine. Since then, I’ve put in a request for flexible working so I can start as early as 7am and finish at 4pm. I was finding the 45-minute commute to the nursery stressful – I was cutting it a bit fine. I explained that I wanted that extra bit of flexibility, and it was all approved. So, whilst there can be a bit of a long hours culture generally, it’s never been an issue for me.
More recently, I’ve had another baby, and I was able to apply for and have a 10-week unpaid sabbatical approved, giving me a full three months leave including statutory.
It's a really interesting job. I get to create something. I also really like what we make as well - the products are really good. Music and audio are things I personally enjoy, so it’s a good industry to be in. It’s the perfect place to be because we design and build our own products. There’s a bit of concern because the company merged just over 10 years ago, so hopefully that won’t erode the ethos of a company that we’re all very proud of, namely that everything is designed and built in Salisbury.
You do have to pay more for quality products and UK engineering. We’re outsourcing some manufacturing now to outside the UK to keep up with demand. It's a little sad that not everything is built in Salisbury anymore. That said, the products are still subject to rigorous listening tests and the engineering team designing the products are of the highest calibre, so there’s no chance of anything subpar being released.
Pay and benefits
I feel like I get paid at the right level for what I do. I have a feeling that I’m probably the lowest paid Engineer in research and development. One of the clues to that is that I’m on a one-month notice period, whilst everyone else is on three months; they probably think I’m easier to replace. That’s because my job is quite niche. Other engineers can do my job as part of their job, whereas I can’t really do their job. I’m not one of these people who constantly looks at other jobs to see what I’m worth. I’m happy if I get a wage I can live on and that I feel is more or less fair. I’m certainly in that bracket. There are also opportunities here for me to get more design work and move out of my niche and become more indispensable in future.
One of the nice things here is that we have a free canteen and get breakfast and lunch provided. That’s something from the 1970s when the company was founded. We have social events as well like a summer party and we just had a charity quiz night. I think this is an example of how a company that likes to look after its employees is doing it in a slightly old-fashioned way. There are modern ways of doing it, like enhanced paternity, for example, but even so, these things are really nice touches which you don’t get in a lot of places.
Health and wellbeing
I’ve had a formal diagnosis of depression and work affects my mental health. This can mean I have motivation issues and there is potential for deadlines to slip a little if I’ve had a bad week or for things to spiral. My manager’s been very supportive whenever I’ve needed help. I can talk to him and say when I’m not feeling great and feel that my work hasn’t been up to standard. In those situations, he says that he knows how well I work when I’m on top form and that’s what matters to him. That’s been really helpful. It shows me that if I’m not 100%, not outputting quite as much, he’s not going to worry about it because he knows that on a good week, things will pick up.
I don’t live to work, that’s for sure. I’ve got to have a good job that pays relatively well to live. There are some people who I work with who just love audio and designing so much they would just work and work. I enjoy my job, but I still have to make myself get up in the morning and go in.
I sometimes look forward to it if I’ve got something that’s really interesting going on, but if the day is going to be broken up with different little tasks, it can be quite demotivating. Other days I’ll have my teeth stuck into something nice and meaty and enjoy the challenge. But, at the end of the day, family comes first. That’s the most important thing to me, making sure I’ve got time to spend at home. I’m not in a hurry in my life. I’m in a really good place now. I’ve got a new baby and need to focus on that.
Thinking points for people managers
- Think about how pay is determined. It should be consistent with a clear process for determining the rate for the job and associated terms and conditions, taking into account when roles are expanded or redesigned.
- Check that the company is complying with the working-time regulations, in terms of rest breaks and working hours.
- Ensure there is clear communication about the future of the company and consider the impact of this on employees. Put mechanisms in place to give employees the opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns.
- Introduce ongoing support plans for individuals to manage identified health issues and regularly monitor and update them.
- Undertake an employee engagement survey and associated activity to fully understand what employees value and how engaged they are.
Read the CIPD’s November 2023 submission to His Majesty’s Treasury