A report has criticised the government for being ineffective in tackling the UK’s engineering skills shortage and mismanaging engineering policy.
The ‘Engineering: Turning Ideas into Reality’ report, by the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee (IUSS), said that it was ‘shocked’ to discover the lack of engineering advice in the formulation of policies for eco-towns and renewable energy projects.
The report suggests that government utilisation of the country’s engineering base would give Britain smarter solutions for problems such as energy security, climate change and the economic downturn.
The report advises the government to identify what expertise it has in the civil service and recruit more people into its accelerated science and engineering training scheme. It also suggests that the government should take a more strategic approach in its support for emerging industries by appointing senior officials to oversee engineering roadmaps and provide coherent engineering policy advice.
The report reads: ‘The strength of engineering knowledge in government is largely the result of accident. Despite the Professional Skills Agenda, there is not much evidence of nurturing professional skills.
‘Government needs to be an intelligent customer for the engineering advice it receives. This means having civil service staff who are able to understand and evaluate engineering advice. With the focus strongly on evidence-based policy, the civil service should have among its staff engineers who are able to source and assess technical evidence.’
As well as in-house expertise, the report identifies the UK’s engineering skills shortage as a major concern, stating that large infrastructure plans, such as nuclear build projects, could be impeded if these issues are not addressed.
John Brindley, business and innovation director at the Institute of Physics, said: ‘As one of the other four engineering case studies investigated in the report, the problem of a nuclear skills shortage could not be more timely. There is a dire human resource supply chain problem. The recruitment pool in the UK will not support the anticipated and hoped-for growth unless more students are encouraged to take physics up to at least A-level.
‘We cannot continue to rely on imported skills as countries such as China, India and Russia all embark on their own new-build programmes, and there will be intense international competition for skills for new nuclear build and decommissioning.’
Prof Dave Delpy, chief executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), said: ‘I hear clear alarm bells in this report. We need to get our best engineers into the media, so they can become role models for young people. We must inspire the next generation to become engineers to sustain the flow of talent we need to keep high-value engineering alive in the UK.’
Sir Anthony Cleaver, chairman of the Engineering and Technology Board (ETB), added: ‘The IUSS report correctly identifies the crucial role of engineering in building and maintaining the world around us, particularly in the current economic climate. It is therefore imperative that the engineering community works together with government, education providers, business and industry, to provide re-training opportunities in growth sectors such as nuclear and renewable engineering, for all those in need of work.’
While the report has been received positively, concerns have been raised about the way in which it should be implemented. Matthew Knowles, spokesman for the Society of British Aerospace Companies, said: ‘With the current shortage of engineers, we are concerned at the report’s proposal that engineers should enter the civil service to set policy.
‘Instead, in the short-term engineers should be engaged as consultants or advisers to the government. The quantity and quality of engineers needs to be raised through other proposals in the report before the industry can afford to lose any quality staff to non-engineering roles.’