UK education system failing the engineering sector

Posted on 6 Mar 2017 by Jonny Williamson

The UK education system is failing to train enough engineers, according to a new study by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and Tata Group.

A major study by the Tata Group and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has confirmed fears that the UK will fail to produce the number of engineers required by industry over the next 10 years. Both bodies called for urgent and radical changes to the UK education system to attract young people into engineering careers.

More than 1,150 IMechE members were polled and the vast majority said that the image of engineering and understanding about what engineers do are the two biggest barriers to young people opting for engineering.

The study will add to the growing drumbeat of calls (extensively reported by The Manufacturer) for action to drag UK education away from a relentless focus on academic studies and university education, towards more teaching of STEM subjects and encouragement by schools of apprenticeships.

The signs are that at least some of this ambition will be fulfilled if the government accepts an amendment by the House of Lords to the Technical and Further Education Bill. This will allow businesses and technical colleges unchallenged access to schools to tell children about the benefits of technical careers.

Dr David Landsman OBE, executive director of Tata Limited explained: “As the UK charts a course for itself outside the EU, a thriving engineering sector is critically important to our future prosperity as a nation. To achieve this, we need to boost the numbers of home grown engineers, which means radically re-shaping both how engineering is perceived and respected, and how our young people are taught. Unless we take action now, we will be faced with a severe shortage of engineering talent which will act as a drag on future economic growth.”

Dr Landsman’s words were echoed by Dr Colin Brown, engineering director at IMechE, who added: “In our increasingly technological age engineering is more important than ever. We urgently need to raise our game in developing the highly-skilled, technically-trained workforce to underpin our Industrial Strategy, build new infrastructure and secure our future economy. This report offers some valuable insight from Tata and the Institution’s members on key issues, as seen by engineers, as the UK rolls out its new Industrial Strategy.

“What is clear is that the UK’s engineering skills shortage is a huge challenge and one that cannot be tackled by engineers and industry alone.  We need to entice more young people into engineering by getting parents, teachers, employers and education specialists on board to bring about the culture change necessary. A first step is seeing engineering as a people focused, creative and socially beneficial activity.”