Editorial: what does it all mean?

As this issue goes to press, America's $700bn rescue plan has been rejected by the US Senate but could get through after all, Lloyds TSB's takeover of HBOS hangs in the balance, European governments are bailing out another bank and the European Union is wondering what to do about Ireland going it alone to guarantee deposits.

Everything changes day to day, and it will all look different by the time you read this. What we can be sure of is that, even if we avoid recession - or indeed depression - the economic environment for business will be tougher than it was a year or two ago.

The media has stood accused in the last week or two of peddling doom, when perhaps the reality is mere gloom - so in this issue we'll look at what the economic crisis will mean for you in reality and the engineering or technology industries you work in.

Dan Lewis, research director of the Economic Research Council, takes a broad view of the industry and forecasts a 'perfect storm': various factors coming together at the same time to cause maximum mayhem. But companies may well come out of it okay - and it varies widely from sector to sector.

The credit crunch, he says, will coincide with an energy crunch that will make life doubly difficult for most. Yet it's also one reason that investment is still pouring into the renewable energy sector, as we report.

In electronics, we look at what has already gone wrong in the semiconductor industry and find one company, squeezed between the worsening economic conditions and the rising cost of borrowing, that has switched from expansion plans to job cuts within a few months.

Manufacturing has seen a slump in the US but, as manufacturing editor Bob Cervi explains in his opinion piece, the sector can be a steady, innovation-rich place to occupy during turbulent times. Long sidelined by governments keen to focus on sexier, more 'futuristic' industries, it's still going strong, producing 'real' products you can actually see and touch. Bob also looks behind the latest buzzwords in the government's new strategy for manufacturing: global value chains and clustering. I visited a microtechnology cluster in the Besançon area of France recently, and I was impressed by the innovative atmosphere of this grouping of SMEs, startups and university expertise. It will be interesting to see how it translates to the UK.

Managing editor Dominic Lenton investigates what's in store for the electrical installation business, and issues a storm warning for UK contractors and electricians. He also takes the temperature of the graduate recruitment market, and finds it pretty buoyant. Those readers who receive our Student and Young Professional magazine, which arrives with this issue, can also get tips on how to survive a recession and which sectors will fare best.

Sometimes, however, managers can only keep companies afloat by making tough decisions. Wilf Altman explains how to make one of the toughest: who to make redundant and how.

Engineers would surely have a few interesting solutions to the financial crisis. Just look at how many of them are in positions of extraordinary power - the Chinese politburo, for example, is entirely comprised of engineers.

Wait a minute: wasn't it the engineers - straight out of college and recruited into the City - who, with their complex financial instruments, got us into this mess in the first place?

Should have stuck to the day job.

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