Class action

Companies are calling on the government to help recruitment by encouraging more school students to study science subjects. Andrew Lee reports.


Employers have called for action to raise the profile of engineering and technology as a career option and to boost the number of children studying science subjects.

The CBI has urged the government to automatically enrol about 250,000 of the UK’s most able pupils for triple science GCSE exams.

Although students would still have the option to revert to studying two sciences, the CBI believes the measure would bring a sharp increase in the number taking triple science — now just seven per cent of 16-year-olds.

It claimed the move would help foster an environment in schools that reflects the importance of engineering, science and technology, and should go hand-in-hand with further efforts to raise the profile of careers in relevant industries.

Specifically, the CBI recommends improved one-to-one careers advice for 14, 16 and 18-year-olds to ‘challenge misconceptions about science and engineering degrees.’

The CBI’s proposals were backed by a number of leading employers in the engineering and technology sector, including Shell UK, E.ON and Network Rail.

James Smith, Shell UK chairman, said: ‘Application of advanced science and technology has never been more important to the energy industry. Incentives for more children to take science at school could help produce the next generation of scientists and engineers that our industry really needs.’

Roger Ainsworth, professor of engineering science at Oxford University, also endorsed the plan as ‘a better preparation for science A-levels and science degrees’.

The concerns of UK companies about the abilities of employees emerging from the education system were further highlighted in new research from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

The body’s latest annual survey revealed that two-thirds of employers believed there was a ‘skills shortfall’ in the typical recruit, with technical and practical expertise a particular problem among school-leavers.

About one in 10 recruiters found basic literacy and numeracy skills were inadequate. This was a particular issue for sectors such as civil engineering, which is a relatively heavy recruiter of school-leavers.

There was better news from the IET’s survey regarding the number of women viewing engineering and technology as a viable career path. Recruitment of more women engineers is seen as a valuable way to help plug the UK’s technical skills gap.

Although female employees make up only six per cent of the technical staff of a typical company (compared with 20 per cent of the total workforce), the number of businesses reporting an increase in women candidates grew sharply.

Forty per cent of companies said more women are applying for engineering-based jobs, compared with just over a fifth a year earlier.

Less encouragingly, the percentage of women on engineering or technology higher education courses has remained static, at 15 per cent.