BBC News

UK recovery 'constrained' by lack of engineers

By Judith Burns
BBC News education reporter

image captionGovernment, industry and educators should work to inspire future engineering talent urges a report

The UK's economic recovery could be "constrained" by a lack of engineering skills, warns a government adviser.

Prof John Perkins, chief scientific adviser at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has identified "a substantial demand for engineers".

He has issued "a call to action" to government, industry and educators to "step up" to inspire future engineering talent and address skills shortages.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said too few teenagers were studying science.

"Engineers must have a strong foundation in maths and science, especially physics.

Early intervention

"The number of young people choosing these subjects post-16 is relatively low, especially amongst women," said Mr Cable.

In his Review of Engineering Skills, Prof Perkins says the UK already relies on "inward migration" to fill skilled jobs in key sectors such as oil and gas extraction, aerospace, and computer, electronic and optical engineering.

"This should not be our long-term solution.

"We should support the UK's young people by preparing them to compete for highly paid, skilled engineering jobs, improving their career prospects and reducing the need to import engineering skills," says the review.

It calls for "purposeful and effective early intervention to enthuse tomorrow's engineers" and ensure they have the "solid academic foundations to engage in the subject".

The report calls for as many young people as possible to study "rigorous curricula in maths and science".

In particular it says the UK lags behind its competitors in the number of 16- to 18-year-olds studying maths.


Prof Perkins says the profession suffers "from widespread misconceptions and lack of visibility that deter young people, and especially girls from pursuing it as a career".

The report refers to polling carried out for the Tomorrow's Engineers Week campaign, which suggests that only half of 11- to 14-year olds would consider a career in engineering.

This dropped to 35% among girls and only 24% of parents of girls said they thought engineering was a suitable profession for their daughters.

Prof Perkins draws "some comfort that we are heading in the right direction" with initiatives to inspire future engineers, a focus on maths and science in schools, more apprenticeships and "our continued strength in higher education".

His 22 recommendations urge both short and long term action to "get the right messages to young people" - particularly girls, to ensure vocational training is high quality and high status and that "higher education continues to deliver".

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said it was making available nearly £49m to boost engineering skills.

Long-term task

From January some £30m of this money will allow employers to bid for match-funding for training schemes to address specific engineering skills shortages.

Another £18m will fund an elite training facility in Coventry, while Tomorrow's Engineers will get £250,000 to encourage schoolchildren into engineering.

Terry Scuoler, chief executive of EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, which represents almost 6,000 companies, said: "The report rightly shines the spotlight on the need for a pipeline of talented future engineers, with credible recommendations on how this can be achieved.

"Whilst this is a long-term task, the message from employers is clear - we are ready to take on the challenge."

Anne Spackman of the charity Career Academies which runs internship schemes to prepare schoolchildren for employment said efforts to "grow the number of potential recruits" into engineering were crucial.

"Engineering is an area rich in job opportunities but lacking the skilled workers to fill them," said Ms Spackman.

More on this story

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