Engineers ‘must act’ to address skills gap, says govt adviser

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Professor John Perkins’ Review of Engineering Skills - .PDF file.

One of the government’s top scientific advisers has called on engineers to ‘step up’ to prevent a new wave of skills shortages.

Employers and professional bodies need to act to make sure young people receive the right messages about engineering and that educational opportunities match the needs of industry, according to Prof John Perkins, chief scientific adviser to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), in a new report on engineering skills.

Perkins has put forward 22 recommendations of ways to address short-term skills gaps, improve education at all levels and inspire more young people to become engineers, 15 of which require the ‘full and active engagement of industry, the profession and the education sector’.

‘I am strongly of the view that this is not an agenda that government alone can solve,’ said the report from Perkins, who previously led the engineering departments at Manchester University and Imperial College.

‘It is right that, instead of government planning the skills needs of sectors, employers should collectively take ownership of the opportunities and, working with government and the profession, shape the provision that is needed.’

Among the recommendations are calls for engineers to work with teachers to help them inform and inspire their students about the profession, to provide more work experience and placements for students at different levels, and even to share their knowledge directly through teaching initiatives.

Employers, meanwhile, should put forward innovative proposals to address existing sector-specific skills shortage and work with government and educational institutions to improve and promote more vocational training and apprenticeships, the report said.

It added that employers should also support publicity and engagement campaigns such as ‘Tomorrow’s Engineers’, which is this is this this week is running events to promote engineering careers.

Perkins said the building blocks for such action were in place but that it required specific effort on the part of engineers, their employers and institutions to help government and educators set more young people, particularly girls, on the path to engineering careers.

‘We should support the UK’s young people by preparing them to compete for highly-paid skilled engineering jobs, improving their career prospects and reducing the need to import engineering skills,’ he said.

‘In the short term, we can improve supply by investing in retaining those with engineering skills and encouraging them to return if they have left the profession or taken a career break.’

The institutions of mechanical engineers (IMechE), civil engineers (ICE), engineering and technology (IET) and the Royal Academy of Engineering all welcomed the report.

ICE director general Nick Baveystock said: ‘We – the engineering profession, with industry and academia – will achieve much more and carry far greater impact if we coordinate and combine our efforts. There is much we already do collaboratively, but we must do more and this is a call for action that must be heeded.’

IMechE chief executive, Stephen Tetlow, said: ‘It is far from certain that this will be achieved. But if we fail in this task, we risk not only a lost generation of British engineering talent, but also a rapid and irreversible decline in UK competitiveness and our national infrastructure.’