The Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee has today published a 131 page report called Engineering: Turning Ideas Into Reality.
The report focuses on four main areas: nuclear engineering; plastic electronics engineering; geo-engineering; and engineering in government.
“We are convinced,” says the Committee, “that the strength of the UK’s engineering base means that the UK can play a major part in solving global problems such as climate change, food and water supply, energy security and economic instability.”
The committee identified a skills shortage in the nuclear industry and says there should be a master roadmap for all major engineering projects, including nuclear new build. It was concerned that the UK is being held back from taking advantage of emerging markets in plastic engineering due to world-class theories continually being developed here but not being put into practice.
It advised a closer working relationship between engineering and social science communities for geo-engineering and said not enough advice is being sought by government from engineering experts during the planning stages for things like eco-towns and renewable energy.
The Committee suggested overall that a greater level of engineering expertise in the generalist civil service is needed as well as more engineering policy specialists. It said government should recruit more people into the Science and Engineering Fast Stream, distribute them more widely and provide real opportunities in career progression while retaining specialist skills, and said Whitehall should look to strengthen links between the public and private sector through secondments.
The Committee’s main find is a need for better trans-departmental management of engineering policy. To this end it suggests also including engineering in the role of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA) – thus making him the GCESA – and giving him direct access to the prime minister. He would also get three deputies: one for engineering; one for science; and one for social science. In addition each governmental would get a head of engineering and/or a head of science if the IUSS Committee’s recommendations were to be taken on.
“The recent economic crisis has presented the Government with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to restructure the economy by building on the existing substantial strengths of UK engineering,” said the Committee, finishing its summary, before launching into the specifics behind its recommendations in the extensive analysis.
Lee Hopley, Head of Economic Policy at EEF said: “With good news thin on the ground this is a well-timed and positive report celebrating the contribution of engineering to the UK’s economy and the importance of getting the right framework in place for the recovery.
“There is huge potential for engineering to find solutions to the long term challenges we face. The Committee rightly identified the need for more strategic government procurement and getting the right skills in place to do this if UK engineering is to take a lead in emerging industries.”