Skills shortage back in the spotlight - provision of engineering skills in the UK economy

Materials World magazine
,
2 Jan 2014

Professor John Perkins, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, has conducted a review into the provision of engineering skills in the UK economy. Here are some of his findings.

The number of students studying engineering and related topics is increasing...


25,300: the number of accepted applications onto engineering degree courses in the UK in 2012 – a 20% increase since 2011

35% increase in accepted applications for maths degree courses in the UK from 2011–2012

48% increase in accepted applications for physics degree courses in the UK from 2011–2012

Gender gap
Fewer than one in 10 UK engineering professionals are female – the lowest percentage in the EU. Perkins was concerned by the problem of gender balance, which he cited as a ‘recurring theme’ in his investigation. ‘The lack of diversity remains an acute issue for engineering in the UK … This is a crucial issue – engineering is failing to draw on the whole of the talent pool’.

The way forward
Perkins recommended 22 steps for Government, employers and professional bodies to take in order to improve the supply of engineers entering the UK labour market. Here are some of his key suggestions:

  • A high profile campaign aimed at girls aged 11–14 years, featuring inspirational messages from diverse role models is needed to inspire a new generation of female engineers.
  • Vocational education was described as an under-exploited asset for the engineering profession, but Perkins highlighted it as an area of great potential. He pointed to the new level two and three qualifications as particular areas to focus on. 
  • Perkins recommended that the Government should review funding arrangements for engineering degree courses to ensure that it is financially sustainable for HE institutions to deliver high quality engineering programmes.
  • The Review also suggested that employers work together to create cooperative crosssector schemes to support postgraduate students.

Leaky tap?
The increasing number of engineering students does not guarantee a steady supply of engineers. The skills gained on these courses are in high demand in other sectors and a significant number of students leave the field soon after graduation.

70% of male engineering and technology graduates are employed in related sectors three years after graduation.

50% of female engineering and technology graduates are employed in related sectors three years after graduation.

Closing remarks ‘There have been dozens of Government reports, select committees and independent reviews into the future of engineering skills over the past 150 years. I would go further. It is time for concerted action by the profession, industry and Government, to achieve the goals for engineering which we all share.’

What do you think?
What do you think of these recommendations? Should the industry be doing more? Tweet or email, @materialsworld materials.world@iom3.org Read the report in full at www.gov.uk/government/ publications/engineering-skills-perkins-review