Future Of Engineering

Future Of Engineering

The Government has been vocal in its support of engineering and the wider manufacturing sector.

In a report out last month called The Future of Manufacturing, the Government called manufacturing “essential for long-term economic growth and economic resilience” and said its contribution to gross domestic product – £139bn in 2012 – was expected only to increase in the long term.

But the report also warned that there were “considerable challenges and threats, not least through increases in global competition” and that there was “no room for complacency”.

Engineering is one of the biggest industries within UK manufacturing, and many within the sector predict a skills shortage. Matthew Hancock MP, Minister for Skills, told the panel that there had been a sharp rise in the number of pupils taking physics GCSE, which along with maths is a core qualification for entry into engineering. But the problem was getting students to continue studying the subject at a higher level – especially girls. Currently, around 40pc of boys who receive A* at GCSE study physics at A Level, but only 20pc of girls.

Data from EngineeringUK, meanwhile, found that while engineering companies have a projected 2.74m job openings between 2010 and 2020, currently fewer than one in five students studies maths after the age of 16.

“It’s very rare to come across the word engineering in schools at all,” argued Paul Davies from the Institution of Engineering and Technology. “Maths and physics are taught in ways that don’t necessarily bring them alive. You can’t expect a 14-year- old to suddenly decide to be an engineer if they don’t know what one is.”

Work experience was seen a good way of introducing students to a career in engineering, but the panel agreed that take-up was low and the quality of placements often poor.

Ann Watson of the apprenticeship body Semta noted that too often work experience simply meant photocopying or making tea, while David Edwards, from the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board, added: “Not enough employers are part of the delivery system; employers are customers of the output of the education system rather than part of the system. [Work experience] has to be part of a structured learning programme with an end goal in mind towards a destination qualification.”

According to a recent survey by City & Guilds of 1,000 employers, more than 70pc said they wanted work experience to be mandatory – yet a quarter didn’t offer any placements. “We’ve definitely got a mismatch of supply and demand,” said UK managing director Kirstie Donnelly.

The panel stopped short of recommending that work experience be compulsory. But it did concur there needed to be a wholesale shift in the way life after school was viewed.

“What should pervade the curriculum is preparation for the world of work – that should be compulsory,” said Professor John Perkins, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.

“Whatever else we do, we should do as good a job as we can preparing our young people for work; industry should recruit for attitude and train for skills.”

He continued: “Teachers have such an important role in helping kids choose what profession they pursue, and too few in my view have experience of the world of work.”

BAE and Jaguar Land Rover have various schemes where they work with students and teachers, either sending engineers into schools or taking pupils round sites and on work experience. BAE even has a project in Barrow where the teachers go on work placements.

Explained BAE’s Richard Hamer: “When they go back into the classroom, they can talk with experience about what apprenticeships are – often they don’t understand [because] they’ve been from school to university and then back to school. But give them the opportunity to find out and they’ll talk on an informed basis.

“These sorts of things can really change hearts and minds.”

Schemes such as this are also intended to help change perceptions that vocational training is inferior to academic learning. This year BAE has around 400 apprenticeships, of which around 10pc are higher- level schemes that are done as part of a full degree; Mr Hamer added that in Military Air and Information, BAE’s biggest division, around half of the executives started life as apprentices.

Said Professor Perkins: “Modern apprenticeships are a really exciting route into the profession. But there’s an issue of parity of esteem – too often there’s a perception that apprenticeships are consolation prizes for those who don’t quite make it through the academic system.”

Yet while industry is increasingly willing to engage with schools, often it is not a two- way street, as Jaguar’s Jose Lopes has found out.

“Our doors are not being battered down by schools wanting to engage,” he told delegates.

Much of this reluctance, argued Rhys Morgan of the Royal Academy of Engineering, can be attributed to the way the schools are assessed and the very specific targets they are set, giving teachers little incentive to adopt a more vocational approach.

He said: “There are accountability systems, particularly with the English Baccalaureate, that favour a narrow set of academic qualifications over other qualifications.

“Schools are under increasing pressure to deliver on those subjects... and until we rebalance towards parity of esteem with more practical subjects, then we’re always going to face this problem.”

Mr Hancock agreed that schools had a crucial role to play in better preparing young people for work and vocational training. But he added that first and foremost, non-academic learning had to be of the highest-possible standard.

“Vocational training prepares people directly for work, and making sure those links between education and employment are strong is vital. Our job in the first instance is to make sure [vocational training is] high- quality, so people can choose between going to university and going into an apprenticeship.

“We’ve got to make sure that vocational education is high quality, stretching and challenging. Just because it’s not academic it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set very high expectations for everybody to be able to lift themselves up through high-quality vocational education.”

Carole Stott, head of the Skills Show, agreed – and summed up much of the panel’s thoughts: “What should be compulsory is that we develop a system where every young person has access to do a vocational qualification of high quality – and at the moment that’s patchy.”