Government urged to tackle £1.5bn engineering skills shortage through primary and secondary education drive

Posted on 7 Dec 2022 by The Manufacturer

A new report endorsed by over 150 engineering leaders and celebrities, led by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), is today calling on government to help tackle the UK’s engineering skills shortage by embedding engineering into the current curriculum.

The IET’s new Engineering Kids’ Futures (EKF) report – which includes signatories from the likes of Major Tim Peake, Carol Vorderman MBE,, and representatives from Vodafone and the MOD – leads with a series of recommendations to the UK government to embed engineering and technology within primary and secondary learning.

It is estimated there is a shortfall of over 173,000 workers in the STEM sector: an average of 10 unfilled roles per business in the UK, which is costing the economy a shocking £1.5bn per annum (source: STEM Learning). What is more, 49% of engineering businesses are experiencing difficulties in the skills available to them when trying to recruit (source: IET Skills Survey 2021).

Report recommendations include:

  • The National Curriculum – The English schools National Curriculum be reviewed to embed the teaching of engineering, at both primary and secondary levels of education.
  • The Design & Technology Curriculum – The current D&T curriculum at secondary level be reviewed, to refocus it as an ‘engineering and design’ subject, with a possible rebranding of the subject accordingly.
  • The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – School accountability measures (Progress 7 and Attainment 8) be reviewed to move D&T into the EBacc suite of subjects.
  • Engineering training for teachers – UK Government endorse, actively promote, signpost and support an engineering package of training aligned with the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) Core Content Framework.
  • Bursaries and scholarships – UK Government funded ITT bursaries and scholarships in engineering be reviewed to increase their value and availability.

David Lakin, IET Head of Education, Safeguarding & Education Policy, said: “As we know, subjects like science and maths are eagerly taught in schools, but connecting them to engineering – the link between these subjects, their purpose and application to the world in which we live – is not currently being made clear.

“We need to ensure there are clearer learning outcomes for these subjects. Put simply, we need to embed engineering into the mainstream curriculum. One way we can do this is by reviewing the current D&T curriculum, which is a key engineering and technology gateway subject, and give it more importance in the EBacc suite of subjects. Teacher training is also a key factor, and providing an engineering package aligned with the Initial Teacher Training Core Content Framework is vital to enhance a teacher’s understanding and confidence around talking about engineering in the classroom.

“There are many options, and the engineering community is ready to help develop and implement these to support government in implementing these recommendations. Our aim to significantly increase the number of quality engineers and technicians entering the workforce can only be achieved by letting young people see the opportunities that a career in the engineering sector presents.”

The report is supported by new IET research which shows:

  • 70% of parents believe primary and secondary education doesn’t teach children about the real-life application of the subjects they learn about.
  • More than half of parents (55%) agree that without formal teaching in engineering and technology (which is the application of subjects such as science and maths), they are worried their child won’t be able to make informed career choices.
  • 69% of parents say its essential primary school children are exposed to engineering and technology at a young age to spark interest in these fields.
  • Almost half of parents (47%) agree that engineering and technology should be a compulsory core subject at GCSE.
  • 53% of parents think there is too much emphasis on Science, Maths and English within the current curriculum

The IET’s Engineering Kids’ Futures report is available on the IET’s website. It was presented to MPs and Peers at an event in Westminster on Wednesday 7 December 2022.  The report follows a series of roundtable events which took place across the UK, including Bristol, London, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Commenting on the report, Baker Dearing Educational Trust chief executive Simon Connell, said: “We welcome many of the recommendations in the IET report and its emphasis on the provision of technical subjects in schools.“Many young people come to UTCs because they want to take up subjects such as engineering and they want to engage more with employers. They are very skill-oriented and very focused on securing the best career opportunities. However, as our own analysis revealed earlier this year, there has been a decline of up to 70 per cent in exam entries for GCSE and A-level design and technology. This reflects a decline in the delivery of these subjects – not a decline in student interest.“The Ebacc system is to blame for this decline, and the subsequent skills shortages. If the government will not abandon Ebacc, then it is right that technical subjects should be included.“Education secretary Gillian Keegan herself told MPs this morning that providing opportunities for young people is key to the government’s work on education. Schools should be properly resourced to deliver technical subjects and be regularly measured on their performance in those subjects to ensure students have access to the fullest range of opportunities for future careers and learning.”

Read more of our People & Skills articles here