With George Osborne set to deliver the Comprehensive Spending Review on 26 June, I thought I would take the opportunity to set out the actions that need to be taken to really make an impact on our economy and long-term industrial growth.
The Comprehensive Spending Review should include a focus on boosting engineering careers – through vocational and academic routes - built upon three vital, joined-up steps which demand the involvement of the wider engineering community.
Firstly, a commitment to ensuring that pupils have access to good, consistent Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance, in a form and at a time that helps them make informed choices about their future careers. The provision of careers guidance in schools is an issue to which EngineeringUK and our partners have and continue to contribute, and where we lead by example. The Tomorrow’s Engineers programme coordinates evidence-based, effective and sustained engineering careers engagement for young people, while at this year’s Big Bang Fair, over half of 11-19 year old visitors spoke to exhibitors about careers and nearly three quarters said they know how to access further information on careers in science and engineering as a result of their visit.
The second step would be to ensure more capacity for training undergraduate and apprentice engineers in applied and research roles – an action which can only be achieved by a meeting of minds and resources from government, education and business.
The final piece of the bigger picture depends upon making sure that there are enough teachers in schools, colleges and universities to provide high quality teaching to our future engineering workforce. UCAS has shown an average 8.4% increase in applications to engineering degrees this year. Apprenticeships within the engineering footprint have increased by 176% over the last nine years. This is good news, and to meet industry demand applications to engineering degrees and apprenticeships must increase much further, in turn meaning an increase in STEM graduates entering the teaching profession. None of this can happen by accident of course. It must happen by design.
The Coalition has reinvigorated support for apprenticeships and Vocational Qualifications Day on 5 June is sure to shine a spotlight on the value of vocational learning. This is an area where the engineering community has always been one step ahead - engineering is one of the ten largest apprenticeship frameworks.
While there is a great deal of parity between vocational learning and Higher Education and the value of each to employers, the challenge is to iron out the apparent inequalities between available support for young people choosing an academic versus vocational career path. UCAS could take this opportunity to develop a new role for itself by applying to apprenticeships a model similar to its support for young people selecting Higher Education routes.
Last month, Director of UCAS Mary Curnock Cook said that young people should make their degree course decision based on what they want to do for three or four years. I think she missed the point. Young people should ask themselves what they want to be doing in for the next ten, twenty years and beyond. It’s a question that rings true for vocational and Higher Education career routes; a question that should start early and one which deserves support. For the sake of the economy and our engineering future, I hope that support is reflected by the Chancellor on 26 June.
Paul Jackson is chief executive of EngineeringUK