This policy statement captures insights from an expert meeting we hosted to discuss ways of closing the UK engineering skills gap.
We see the looming shortage of skilled engineers as a major obstacle to restoring the UK’s economic vibrancy. Historically, labour markets have been able to adjust to follow economic trends, but we can no longer assume that this will happen. Raised levels of unemployment can now stubbornly exist alongside high skills demand in other sectors in a “two-speed labour market”.
A laissez-faire approach to skills will be insufficient to meet future requirements. Though broad agreement exists about the critical importance of increasing the supply and retention of engineers, no real consensus has been reached on how to achieve this.
In February 2013, we hosted an expert meeting which was attended by specialists from 30 organisations representing industry, academia, sector skills councils and the government.
The experts came together to evaluate what needed to be done to address the projected future shortage of engineers. Discussions from this meeting formed the basis of the issues discussed in this document. The experts centred on determining specific courses of action to create a co-ordinated plan to close the gap between skills demand in industry and supply from education.
Delegates identified four areas of action:
- Improving partnerships between employers and the education sector
- Greater clarity in defining the purpose of activities to promote engineering to young people, leading to reduced fragmentation
- Understanding what influences engineering graduates’ career decision-making
- Creating a profession that better reflects the diversity of society and that draws on all the latent talent available
Careers-related learning must be a core feature of mainstream education – as is the case in other countries that successfully recruit into engineering – and not simply be left to a plethora of external agencies. Misinterpretation of impartiality should not prevent young people from finding out about the breadth of career routes and destinations.
- Employer-education partnerships
Evidence exists that pupils benefit from their teachers having authentic experience in industry and in research environments. Government should both support and incentivise a new wave of teacher industrial and research placements that will lead to stronger ties between employers and schools.
- Evaluating what works
Informal learning initiatives can have a powerful influence over young people’s career paths. The engineering community needs to be more robust in evaluating which enhancement and enrichment interventions work best, and use this evidence to plan how best to make use of its finite resources.
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