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Recent promises are promising for tomorrow’s engineers

After trips to Brighton and Manchester for the Labour and Conservative party conferences, I returned to London buoyed by the Government’s announcement of support for science and engineering careers and the renewed interest in industrial strategy from both parties.

David Willetts’ fringe speech on industrial strategy was a packed-out event – a stark contrast to previous years – and discussions about infrastructure were a welcome and much needed change from the political scrapping which has got in the way of clear-sighted progress in the past.

David Willetts

David Willetts’ fringe speech on industrial policy at the Tory Conference was packed out

Willetts’ speech suggests that the engineering community is being heard. We have been calling for expansion in university capacity and the £200 million earmarked in the speech is a good start. The devil – as always - remains in the detail, however. Encouraging young women to keep their engineering options open by pursuing physics at A Level and engineering at degree level is vital for the UK’s current and future economic success and for young people’s employment prospects. This goal is listed as a Government ‘hope’. If we are to meet increasing demand for engineers, we need more young people with the relevant academic qualifications coupled with a joined-up effort on the part of Government, businesses, education and the wider engineering community to make it happen.

“Encouraging young women to keep their engineering options open by pursuing physics at A Level and engineering at degree level is vital for the UK’s current and future economic success

Tomorrow’s Engineers Week next month, on 4-8 November, is an early signal that Government is getting with the programme and brings together the professional bodies, business and the public.  The creation of the Week demonstrates their commitment to supporting an initiative, which the engineering community is behind rather than inventing something from scratch.

The community is voting with its feet and the Week already has a packed schedule. The Perkins review on engineering skills will be published on Monday 4th November, setting the context of engineering demand and the collaborative efforts to be made to improve the supply of engineering skills. Also on the 4th EngineeringUK is putting on a Big Bang Fair in Parliament in partnership with the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee – it’s great fun to be creating a ‘Big Bang’ in the Houses of Parliament on the eve of Guy Fawkes Night. And the Rolls Royce Science Prize will also take place that evening.  With so much activity kicking off the Week, I’m looking forward to what the rest of the engineering community has in store.

The aim of the Tomorrow’s Engineers Week is to rally partner support, and raise awareness of the wealth of engineering careers out there for young people and the study paths to take in order to take advantage of these opportunities.

If you’re interested in getting in on the action, you can access a toolkit on the Tomorrow’s Engineers website and join the enthusiasm for the Week on Twitter using #TEWeek13

Now the politicians are listening to and acting upon our collective voice, it’s time to get involved and turn up the volume.

Readers' comments (4)

  • Talented girls are missing physics and then missing the chance for engineering - no question. Ambitious youngsters, but especially girls, are attracted to medicine - and don't want to cut themselves off from that option by studying physics and not having time to study biology, which they, their parents, or their teachers or all three believe is essential to medicine. When they change their tack - or fail to make the multiple A* grades they need for medicine they look to do engineering but are now locked out. The solution ? Tell youngsters the truth: that only 7 out of 33 (21%) medical schools in the UK require A level biology. So we should tell youngsters that unless they are certain they DON'T want to engineering and are certain to make the grade for medicine, they should hedge their bets and do physics. Some will really enjoy physics and want to do engineering anyway, and others will switch later. These talented once-potential-medical students would be an enormous boost to engineering.

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  • The remarks of both the Minister and Paul Jackson are greatly to be welcomed. I am confident that readers of this blog will be sick and tired of my repeating myself about further advances I believe will add to recent and present changes. I would like to suggest that our nation's present (and the urgent need to raise its game in the international economic stakes) position is exactly as was that of the USA/UK in 1957 , when the first USSR Sputnik was launched. [I was doing my O levels, but do recall our Physics teacher (as close to Engineering as school sciences got!) telling us that 'now the scientists and technologists would get their proper recognition. For those few brief years, they (and we, when I became one, even up to Harold Wilson's 'white heat of technology' speech in 1964) did indeed gain the kudos deserved, for the contribution to matching the level of success from 'the then other political side, they achieved.

    What in heavens name went wrong?
    The clerks got back in charge again: and they are still there. Get them out, and there is just a chance we can regain our proper place. Leave them in all the top places (and as sure as those little green apples were made by ...) and nothing will change. And, get them out by demonstrating just how little they actually do contribute (or indeed can contribute) to UK plc.
    Mike b

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  • They are encouraging young people to get their head into debt by pursuing a career in engineering. Engineering is a low pay, undervalued profession in this country. After years in the industry the odds are that most people will be unemployed by the age of 40 with huge debts and the rest will be paid peanuts under the umbrellas of big corporations...

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  • Isn't it interesting that the one person knocking engineering as a career is "An Engineer"? Perhaps this anonymous person simply isn't a very good engineer.

    Maybe I mix with the wrong engineers, but "low pay" doesn't come into it. They might agree with the "undervalued" bit, but I suspect that this applies to most professions, bankers and lawyers even. As a journalist for many years, I'd say that "undervalued" describes us too.

    But back to the subject, with luck there will be more youngsters keen to go into ICT, an important subset of engineering.

    I recently interviewed one very successful creator of computer games. (Some heavy duty software engineering in there.) He talked of a slump in people going to study ICT at university in the noughties. The dreadful quality of ICT teaching at schools – all typing and spreadsheets – deterred a generation of people you might think would be naturals for a degree course in ICT.

    There is now a glimmer of hope with things like the Raspberry Pi and schools courses that really do teach ICT, along with accreditation for degrees, in an attempt by the sector to stamp out "Mickey Mouse" IT qualifications that are a waste of time and money for anyone taking these courses.

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