A small investment that can make the world of a difference

Sep 29, 2021

By: Beatrice Barleon, Head of Public Affairs & Policy, EngineeringUK 

We need more engineers – now more than ever. Brexit, Covid and on top of that the urgent need to reduce our carbon footprint and fulfil the government’s ambitions of ‘building back better’ and developing the UK into a science superpower all mean that engineers are likely to be in high in demand in the coming years and decades. ‘Greening’ our industries will require their creativity and solution-focused approaches as well as their technical expertise no doubt.

Since coming into power, the UK government has published new strategies, set out new policies and focused funding on projects and industries to support this ambition of a cleaner, greener, more productive post-Brexit UK.  And the good news is that the issue of skills has somewhat taken centre stage in that debate. Government, and in particular those responsible for the UK’s industrial development, finally seem to have acknowledged that having a skilled workforce is absolutely key to achieving these ambitions as well as economic prosperity of this country.

To date, and particularly since the pandemic, the focus has been quite a lot on reskilling and upskilling the nation. Bootcamps and the development of short courses have been high on the agenda and are often quoted as the silver bullet to all the UK’s skills problems and long-term unemployment. And there is no doubt that people who are mid-career and whose jobs are disappearing need to be trained to move into the green jobs of the future.

What about young people?

Much less attention is sadly being paid to developing the next generation of scientists, engineers and technicians and the rising numbers of young people losing their jobs. Yes, there have been programmes such as Kickstarter and the incentives to employers to take on new young apprentices, all of which was and is very welcome. None of these programmes truly address the long-term challenges that remain in opening more opportunities to young people and in getting them interested in science and engineering as well as trained to fill those skills gaps of the future.

Ensuring that we have the engineers of tomorrow requires further investment in education and skills and demands of government to develop a clear STEM education strategy. This is why the National Engineering Policy Centre, a group of over 40 Professional Engineering Institutions, including EngineeringUK, is calling on government to invest in a long-term STEM education strategy. This strategy must focus on boosting STEM teacher recruitment so that pupils in all regions are taught by subject specialists and on raising and maintaining teaching standards by providing ringfenced STEM subject specific Continuing Professional Development for primary and secondary teachers. It should also look to accelerate the expansion of technical education provision and higher Technical Qualifications and promote high-quality engineering apprenticeship opportunities to all young people with a focus on improving under-representation.

Another aspect that engineering institutions are calling for is something that we at EngineeringUK have been arguing for since the publication of our joint report ‘Securing the future: STEM careers provision in schools and colleges in England’ with 7 other organisations in June this year – a £40 million investment in careers provision for schools and colleges in England. Young people undoubtedly need the right STEM education to be able to access the engineering, technical and science jobs of the future. But they also need to be inspired to go into these jobs in the first place and need to hear from people working in this sector what roles and opportunities are available to them.

A roadmap for future generations

This report highlighted that funding is a real issue for many schools and colleges and impacts on what they can deliver in terms of careers provision and in particular STEM careers activities. This finding has been further confirmed through EngineeringUK’s annual Engineering Brand Monitor survey, in which STEM teachers told us a similar story, with schools with medium to high numbers of Free School Meal (FSM) pupils particularly raising this as an issue. Also coming to the fore in the research is that careers leader and teachers struggle to deliver STEM careers provision because they have limited capacity and lack understanding of how to engage with STEM employers to bring them into the school and offer their insights to the young people. 

To solve these issues our Securing the future report recommends that government invest more in careers provision in schools and colleges in England, and probably across the UK. We ask that government provide around £30 million annually to boost the careers offer in schools more generally because without a functioning overall careers system schools will also not be able to deliver the STEM specific experiences that we would like young people to get access to.

In addition to that we want government to boost the capacity within careers hubs through an additional STEM leader in each hub and provide a STEM diversity fund, accessible to schools with young people currently under-represented in the STEM profession, including those with medium to high levels of FSM pupils. To achieve this, we ask that government make available £3.5 million and £10 million annually. The role of STEM leaders would be to build up the capacity of schools and colleges around STEM careers and facilitate joint STEM careers activities with employers, including work experience, to open up opportunities for many more young people who currently don’t think that a career in engineering is for them.

Making a difference for young people

A recent survey by Youth Employment UK highlighted how difficult the pandemic has been on young people and how hard it has hit their confidence and belief in the world of work. In fact, only 9.9% of the young people responding to this survey said that that they are confident that they will find a good quality job where they live.  We all should be deeply concerned by this. But there are solutions, and there are jobs that can provide those opportunities. And I would argue the engineering sector is one of them. We now just need to make sure that these good quality jobs in the industries of the future are accessible to young people and that young people can see themselves in these careers.

The new Education Secretary has now an opportunity to address some of these issues that are being highlighted by us and others and we truly hope that he will make the case within the context of the Comprehensive Spending Review for a clear STEM education strategy including greater investment in careers provision in schools. The engineering sector needs the government to act to ensure that it has the skilled workforce it requires for the future and to support the government’s ambitions. But more importantly, this government owes it to young people to get this right and to ensure that they can see a successful future for themselves here in the UK.

Find out more about engineering ambitions for the UK Spending Review

Explore Securing the future further

Read EngineeringUK's contribution to the UK Spending Review

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