Where to spend campaign cash

Can today’s teenagers be won over to a career in engineering simply by the power of advertising? As crucial GCSE and A-level choices approach, will young people be persuaded to go in for demanding, maths and science subjects instead of media, communicatio

Those who speak and act for the UK engineering profession believe advertising can make a difference hence the proposed campaign which may cost up to £20m over the next five years.

But can we really expect industry to pay for the bulk of this? A big engineering company that is being asked to pay £200,000 a year over five years will need some idea of the success criteria of such a project, and what benefits it can expect in return.

It could also find plenty of other uses for the cash which would seem to deliver more benefits with less risk. It could decide to live with the shortage of the right graduates, but use the same cash to cherry pick the best of a declining pool. The sums being talked about would allow a big engineering firm to create 40 new annual student sponsorship packages of £5,000. Or it could be used for training, graduate recruitment or local initiatives which could generate more tangible results. If the funding campaign is extended, smaller companies will be making the same calculations.

The shortage of skilled engineers is hurting the British economy as a whole, not just individual companies. On that basis, incentives may be needed to get engineering firms to spend money for the public good, not just for their own benefit. A step in this direction would be for the Government to match industry’s input pound for pound. As would be some kind of tangible spin-off for sponsors.