Limitations with the Apprenticeship Levy and a worrying shortage of technical teachers means the UK education system cannot produce enough engineers to support the economy, especially with increasing reliance on home-grown talent post-Brexit.
That’s the damning conclusion of a new report – Engineering Skills for the Future: The 2013 Perkins Review Revisited, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering.
The study finds numerous barriers to addressing the UK’s annual shortfall of almost 60,000 engineers and technicians in the workforce, including narrow post-16 education options, teacher shortages and an overly restrictive Apprenticeship Levy.
The report, produced by Education for Engineering, an engineering education and skills policy body led by the Academy, examined multiple stages of the education and skills system.
In schools, it found that while pupil numbers have increased since 2015, teacher numbers for maths, science, computer science and design and technology have not kept pace, and government plans do not go far enough towards addressing recruitment and retention challenges.
It also warns that the current post-16 academic system is too narrow and closes the door for many young people to technical and creative careers.
In higher education, where engineering is a high-cost subject that requires top-up grant funding and cross-subsidy, introducing differential fees could have a disastrous effect on take up of engineering degrees, the report says.
It also identifies challenges with the Apprenticeship Levy, which while the intention is welcome, the reality is that fees are often underspent and the admin is difficult to navigate for employers, especially SMEs.
The report also finds that the engineering profession is missing out on valuable existing talent by not addressing bias in recruitment, progression and retention.
To address these challenges, the report recommends:
- Government should review the issues affecting recruitment and retention of teachers and go beyond plans announced this week by introducing a requirement for 40 hours of subject-specific continuing professional development annually for all teachers of STEM subjects, not just new recruits.
- An urgent review of post-16 academic education pathways for England is needed. Young people should have the opportunity to study mathematics, science and technology subjects along with arts and humanities up to the age of 18, to attract a broader range of young people into engineering.
- Government must ensure engineering courses are adequately funded with increased top-up grants for engineering departments if tuition fees are to be reduced.
- Government should give employers greater control and flexibility in how they spend the Apprenticeship Levy, including to support other high-quality training provision in the workplace, such as improving the digital skills of the workforce.
- Professional engineering organisations and employers should address the need to up-skill engineers and technicians to prepare for the introduction of disruptive digital technologies into industry.
- Employers should take an evidence-based and data driven approach to improve recruitment and increase retention and progression of underrepresented groups within organisations, including by introducing recruitment targets for underrepresented groups.
Five years of little to no progress
The government-commissioned 2013 Review of Engineering Skills, authored by Professor John Perkins CBE FREng, was a landmark report that reviewed engineering education from primary to professional for the first time.
This latest report, also led by a group chaired by Professor Perkins, and revisits the challenges highlighted in the original ‘Perkins Review’ and sets out a roadmap for government and the engineering community that identifies urgent priorities for action.
The report concludes that if the industrial strategy is to achieve its aims, government must nurture and grow its skilled engineering workforce to improve productivity and economic growth.
Since the original ‘Perkins Review’, the report found that scant progress in addressing the UK’s chronic engineering skills gap has been made and calls on government and the engineering community to take urgent action.
Professor Perkins commented: “Engineering is enormously valuable to the UK economy but suffers from a chronic shortage of skills, let down by the education system that removes the option of an engineering career for too many young people at each stage of their education.
He continued: “We need to broaden the curriculum for post-16 education, value technical education on a par with academic progression, unlock more potential from the Apprenticeship Levy, and guarantee affordable, fair and inclusive access to engineering degrees. These changes have the potential to pay dividends in the years to come for young people, the economy, and society.”
Echoing many of Professor Perkins concerns and wishes, Dame Judith Hackitt, chair of EEF and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, added: “We need to shout from the rooftops that vocational education in the digital age is as credible and valuable as academic routes and can supply our economy with the much-needed talent from Generation Z for the future.
“Far from offering two separate routes, academic and technical education should be seen as intertwined, serving the demands of industry who are looking for a mix of vocational and academic learning to provide the innovators, creators and makers of the future.”
The Manufacturer Top 100
The Manufacturer Top 100 began in late 2013 as a direct response to the ‘Perkins Review’ and the lack of visible role models in industry.
The annual report provides a platform for the recognition of those working in manufacturing at all levels and job functions, showcasing the enthusiasm and commitment they all demonstrate towards driving the sector forward.
In 2018, we celebrated the fifth cohort to be inducted into what is becoming a powerful group of alumni – The Manufacturer Top 500.
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