Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Call to address engineers' shortage

More must be done to encourage young people to take up engineering, according to a Government-commissioned review

There is "substantial demand" for engineers in the UK economy and more must be done to encourage young people, particularly girls, to take up the profession, a review has found.

It calls for employers and professional organisations to step in and work with the Government to address the shortage of skills in engineering.

The Government-commissioned review, led by Professor John Perkins, chief scientific adviser to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), says there is evidence of shortages in specific areas of the industry, and that as the economy changes there will be more need for professionals to work in the sector.

It adds that the UK is relying on migration for engineering skills, with immigrants accounting for a fifth of workers in sectors such as oil and gas extraction, computer, electronic and optical engineering.

"Whilst this Review welcomes the fact that the Government allows employers to import engineering skills in key shortage areas, this should not be our long-term solution," the review says.

It goes on to say: "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."

Engineering skills take a long time to develop - starting with young people studying science and maths at school - so in the short term the UK can boost the number of people in the industry by investing in those that already work in it, and encouraging those that have left the profession to return.

Others may have studied related subjects and could be helped to "convert" and take a degree in engineering, the report says.

It also says that girls are heavily under-represented in engineering, warning that the UK has the lowest proportion of female engineers in the EU.

Less than one in 10 engineering professional in this country are women, it adds.

This may be down to girls' A-level choices, their perceptions of engineering and gender stereotypes in the careers advice students receive.

Prof Perkins said: "There is clearly a substantial demand for engineers in the UK economy."

He added: "I hope this report will be a call to action that will bring engineering employers, the profession and educators together, to own and collectively shape a future in which our supply of engineers grows in quality as well as quantity."

BIS said that to address the skills shortage it was announcing new funding including up to £30 million for employers to bid for to solve shortages in areas with specific needs and an £18 million investment in a new elite training facility at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "Engineering has a vital role to play in the future of UK Industry. It is important that we act now to ensure businesses have access to the skills they require to enable them to grow. We cannot do this alone so I am calling on employers and education professionals to get involved and inspire the next generation of engineers."

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