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Engineers 'must act' to address skills gap, says govt adviser

One of the government’s top scientific advisers has called on engineers to ‘step up’ to prevent a new wave of skills shortages.

Employers and professional bodies need to act to make sure young people receive the right messages about engineering and that educational opportunities match the needs of industry, according to Prof John Perkins, chief scientific adviser to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), in a new report on engineering skills.

Perkins has put forward 22 recommendations of ways to address short-term skills gaps, improve education at all levels and inspire more young people to become engineers, 15 of which require the ‘full and active engagement of industry, the profession and the education sector’.

‘I am strongly of the view that this is not an agenda that government alone can solve,’ said the report from Perkins, who previously led the engineering departments at Manchester University and Imperial College.

‘It is right that, instead of government planning the skills needs of sectors, employers should collectively take ownership of the opportunities and, working with government and the profession, shape the provision that is needed.’

Among the recommendations are calls for engineers to work with teachers to help them inform and inspire their students about the profession, to provide more work experience and placements for students at different levels, and even to share their knowledge directly through teaching initiatives.

Employers, meanwhile, should put forward innovative proposals to address existing sector-specific skills shortage and work with government and educational institutions to improve and promote more vocational training and apprenticeships, the report said.

It added that employers should also support publicity and engagement campaigns such as ‘Tomorrow’s Engineers’, which is this is this this week is running events to promote engineering careers.

Perkins said the building blocks for such action were in place but that it required specific effort on the part of engineers, their employers and institutions to help government and educators set more young people, particularly girls, on the path to engineering careers.

‘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,’ he said.

‘In the short term, we can improve supply by investing in retaining those with engineering skills and encouraging them to return if they have left the profession or taken a career break.’

The institutions of mechanical engineers (IMechE), civil engineers (ICE), engineering and technology (IET) and the Royal Academy of Engineering all welcomed the report.

ICE director general Nick Baveystock said: ‘We – the engineering profession, with industry and academia - will achieve much more and carry far greater impact if we coordinate and combine our efforts. There is much we already do collaboratively, but we must do more and this is a call for action that must be heeded.’

IMechE chief executive, Stephen Tetlow, said: ‘It is far from certain that this will be achieved. But if we fail in this task, we risk not only a lost generation of British engineering talent, but also a rapid and irreversible decline in UK competitiveness and our national infrastructure.’

Readers' comments (5)

  • The keywords are "highly paid". BSI just offered a permanent position as Trainee Certification Manager for £25,000. That's far less than the starting salary for graduates in Germany. And who wants to be a permanent trainee?

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  • Some weeks ago, I offered a (I believed humorous) poke at other so-called professions reference their modus. I suggested that our profession, which spends most of its time dealing with problems and turning them into opportunities, should follow our apparent betters. I proposed that we should only offer our skills when our clients are already in trouble, that
    we should ensure that we are guaranteed payment, even when we are un-successful,
    that each project we take-on should make work for five other 'sets' of our fellow Engineers for,
    that the longer we take, the more deceitful and incompetent we are, the more we will be paid and finally that as we control the access to any disciplining process, and that such will only be administered and decided by others of our 'ilk', we will guarantee our continued enjoyment of this disgraceful misuse of power, post, position and professional status for ever: or for at least 500 years, that enjoyed by those who have arranged a similar situation to their benefit and the loss of citizen, corporation and state.

    I did elicit one response: but believe when my academic research -which has addressed the extent of this type of outrage perpetrated by others...there will be many more. Particularly from those I have exposed and encouraged to demonstrate the full extent of their evil ways.

    Imagine if you will, the role of accountants: who spend much of their time telling clients how in effect to diddle the Government of its rightful dues in taxes: and lawyers who spend all of theirs covering up for the mis-deeds -commercial, criminal and social- of those who can afford (or pay the State to afford) their fees.

    I read recently that another blogger has 'given-up' his struggle and accepted that our Nation must simple sink into St Jude's abyss. I know how he feels, but I am still kicking.
    Mike B

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  • Until the system is changed - money = achievement = good OFSTED grade the whole of engineering teaching will follow the same path as other education.
    Dumb down to the minimum.
    Paul Brown
    Curriculum Manager
    Work Based Training provider

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  • One of my concerns is the deep void in skills levels all around the UK now and although I enter schools and work places to encourage engineers the gap is ever widening when you compare ourselves with China and India etc who are turning out thousands of graduate engineers each year only the making the gap wider. The talk to start to get 8-10 years old children interested in engineering which am a big part player and supporter. I take part in schools challenges, Bloodhound and many other activities, but it will be 10years or so before these children start to make an impact and become into effective engineers. The skill gap particularly for SME’s is now and we need an effective way of getting them working to full capacity as soon as possible. I was part organiser of a seminar last week and in the room were many engineers and managers who are perfectly capable of building an aircraft from scratch a skill which most of today’s graduates will probably never see, yet these skills are being wasted and could be used to bridge the gap until the new graduates and engineers start to fill the rolls.
    When a SME approaches a University the University usually finds a student who is starting a new term in October so unless the request comes in September you already have a built in delay. Also the student may never of seen any problem like this so there is the learning curve before you get started by which time the SME has probably missed the opportunity. I am not talking of a register of consultants as in most cases a brief discussion between the engineer and the SME to discuss the problem or idea may well show that there is a potential or not and so nothing is lost, but may also show an approach already available from previous projects.
    I took early retirement, but still go into my old workplace at Aircelle to give training sessions for which I get paid, I have also given these in BAe and Belfast where they have a similar skills shortage, but on many occasions I will be called in to have a look at a problem in the early stages just for a talk to see if something which I have already seen or can give a bit of advice and I don’t even charge for these, but it does cut many corners without the long delays involving a third party.
    Most of the retired engineers like myself have a wealth of experience the like of which is rapidly disappearing as we get older and may never be replaced, feel a need to put something back into the manufacturing to the benefit of the UK but don’t need to work as such, because we still pay tax on any additional earnings
    If the government or Institutions had a list of engineers available and their expertise that could be made available for SME’s and others not just in aerospace but across industry to call on when required with a small one off tax free payment (£ 100) not replacing consultants or the University expertise, but to release these to concentrate on the big jobs when sometimes a quick discussion is all that is required.

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  • Pay is poor in engineering. For the all the effort and education required it is incredibly low. Compare this to other countries with far more successful sectors it is dire.

    During university I saw very few engineers actually leave and become engineers. Most were set on going into management or finance. After university I have seen many engineers leave, often to retrain as accountants or move into business roles elsewhere.

    It is a real shame and a fundamental issue. Over the next 20 years we are going to lose most of our engineers as they retire. How many people training to be engineers currently will actually become or stay as engineers is unknown. Based on my experience I think it will be very few.

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