YES – the Year of Engineering Success – was launched earlier this year (see News) amid a fanfare which included heavyweight government endorsement in the form of president of the Board of Trade, Ian Lang.
Like it or not, however, Britain approaches a general election with an acute nationwide shortage of skills which could severely undermine Britain’s competitiveness. The UK needs 30,000 new qualified engineers each year just to replace wastage. Only half this number are entering engineering-based industries, which together account for up to 30% of the GDP.
A survey of graduate salaries and vacancies shows scientific, technical, and engineering research and development experienced the highest recruitment shortfall of all – 11.3% in 1995 and 12.7% last year.
Little surprise, then, that a recent survey of those studying for entrance to Higher Education engineering was regarded with rather less reverence than medicine and teaching – and on a par with accountancy!
From 1992 to 1996 alone, UCAS, the Universities & Colleges Admissions Service, reported a one-third fall in the number of applications to engineering degree courses
Historian Correlli Barnett, writing in the most recent issue of Engineering First, the Engineering Council journal, suggested a reversal of this worrying trend might be possible if there were more engineer MPs. In 1990, fewer than 1% of MPs were engineers, compared with 6% of representatives in the German Bundestag and 5% in the French National Assembly.
Could 1 May be the turning point which sees engineering emerge from the shadows?