There’s been a lot of talk about skills recently; what we need to see now is action. The Engineering UK 2017 report again highlights the need to improve the volume of people entering the industry and the skills of those within it.
Engineering apprenticeship starts in England are at their highest for ten years (108,000), although with females making up only 7 per cent of those apprentices, we shouldn’t be patting ourselves on the back quite yet. There is still a job to be done to encourage more young people, of all backgrounds, to consider an apprenticeship in engineering. Particularly given the injection of funding into further education, the new Apprenticeship Levy could be a one-time opportunity not to recruit a cohort of engineering apprentices in the same image as the previous one – I think we’ll be sorry if we miss it.
Apprenticeship recruitment is picking up and 2015/16 saw a 5 per cent growth in applicants to higher education engineering courses, but this is no time to be complacent. The trend is positive but the rate of growth isn’t nearly fast enough to keep pace with demand. The perception of engineering is also improving: 51 per cent of 11- to 16-year-olds say they would consider a career in engineering and 96 per cent of teachers would recommend the industry to their pupils.
To capitalise on this, more must be done to inspire young people from all backgrounds and to keep girls in the talent pipeline as they go from making up almost half of students taking GSCE Physics to just 15 per cent of engineering and technology undergraduates. That’s what engineers and science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) professionals from across the country will be doing at The Big Bang Fair this week, including teams from EDF, Sellafield, Shell and National Grid. Among other things, young visitors will have the chance to discover how power stations make electricity and different ways to tackle the global energy challenge.
Engineering makes a significant contribution to the economy and employment. Across the UK, oil and gas supports 330,000 jobs, of which around 34,000 are directly in the sector. Young people need to understand those employment opportunities.
While it’s great to see a focus on the foundations in the Industrial Strategy, there remains a question as to whether post-Brexit we will be strong enough to address the continuing skills gap. By working together with a clear focus we can help ensure a bright future for engineering.