Can Britain move to retain its brain power?

Posted on 7 Jun 2011 by The Manufacturer

GE found that while Britain is attractive for prospective engineering graduates, academics say that other nations have a competitive edge.

The USA, China and Germany are said to be more attractive destinations for those wishing to become engineers, according to UK academics. Britain offers excellent career prospects to potential young engineers, but is in danger of losing its competitive edge in the engineering sector if there is a brain drain of engineering talent to the faster growing nations, especially China and India.

While the majority of lecturers surveyed feel the UK has a stronger skills base than other countries, only 13% said that the UK has a growing talent pool to draw on; and that further investment, funding and support is vital in order to help the UK secure its place as an engineering force.

According to respondents, the United States is the leading market for career prospects (68%), followed by China (67%), Germany (59%) and India (33%). The UK was placed 5th (31%). More than half (56%) of lecturers and four out of 10 students (41%) think the UK is less ambitious than the rest of the world to lead in the field of engineering technology.

Mark Elborne, president and CEO of GE in the UK says: “The engineering sector is the lifeblood of the UK economy and we clearly have a very bright, enthusiastic and skilled generation of young people coming through the system. However, our research shows that we need to continue to support this important pillar of growth by continuing to grow our skills base and competitive edge in engineering.”

“There is a new generation of young people choosing engineering as a career – mainly because of the impact they can have on society. These figures demonstrate that both business and government need to continue to support and invest in this new generation, to ensure we nurture and retain such talent,” he argues.

The study shows that the academic community sees a number of challenges for engineering and manufacturing. These include cuts in public spending and costs of education as factors that could potentially affect the UK’s skills base and consequently threaten the UK’s future economic growth. 62% of students and 60% of lecturers think cuts in government spending and huge hikes in tuition fees will have a detrimental effect on the numbers of young people choosing engineering as a career in the future.

One of the main barriers to more people choosing engineering technology to study or as a career is the perception that it is a predominantly male career choice. 68% of students and 65% of lecturers agree that the UK struggles to attract enough women into engineering technology. As The Manufacturer heard at the National Manufacturing Debate at Cranfield University in May, the number of female engineers and manufacturers is a lot higher in Asia compared to the UK.

Both students and lecturers agree that the key to boosting the UK’s competitiveness is developing a more positive societal attitude regarding the benefits of engineering (86% and 77%) and investment in higher education and vocational training (82% and 64%).

George Archer