Engineering Kids’ Futures: How to tackle a £1.5 billion skills shortage
With economic growth at the epicentre of the current focus in Westminster, the Institution of Engineering & Technology (IET) officially launched a new report in front of parliamentarians, students and industry leaders earlier this month with recommendations on how the Government can help tackle the UK’s gaping engineering skills shortage.
Repeatedly acknowledged by all recent Government administrations, Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects are of vital importance to the UK. But despite the sector’s crucial role in achieving the country’s economic, social and environmental objectives, it is estimated that there is currently a shortfall of over 173,000 workers restricting its potential¹.
This is costing the economy a staggering £1.5 billion per annum¹. Meanwhile, 49% of engineering businesses are experiencing difficulties in the skills available to them when trying to recruit².
Dealing with this challenge and developing a robust pipeline of engineering talent in future generations is where the IET’s Engineering Kids’ Futures (EKF) report comes in. Endorsed by over 150 signatories from Major Tim Peake to will.i.am, it leads with a series of recommendations for the Government about embedding engineering and technology within primary and secondary learning, including:
- 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.
Introducing the report in Parliament’s Terrace Pavilion was Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Digital, Chi Onwurah MP, who highlighted the importance of STEM in dealing with some of the biggest challenges “facing our world today”:
“Today we are here for this fantastic report, Engineering Kids’ Futures…Whether it's climate change or healthy living, whether it's food poverty or data privacy, they all have engineering at their heart and they have huge economic and social consequences…
“This is a time when we need growth in our economy. And because so many of our challenges are engineering based, we cannot get the growth we need in our economy without the engineering skills that we need to address those challenges.”
Speaking from her own experience as a chartered engineer, Onwurah also spoke about how a commitment to the teaching of education and engineering in schools could help improve access to the sector from all backgrounds, boosting diversity in the process:
“I was in engineering for over 20 years. I was so often the only woman in the room, the only northerner in the room, actually the only woman of colour in the room…
“We cannot address the lack of education, skills, sector and investment in the sector, unless we address the lack of diversity. And this report is absolutely right to identify the education system as a key mechanism to improve access to engineering careers, to more broadly grow the sector.”
Chi Onwurah was followed by President of the IET, Bob Cryan, and Tony Ryan Chief Executive Officer of the Design and Technology Association, both of whom emphasised the skills gaps and how without concerted effort we could see subject of Design and Technology disappearing from our schools, limiting the exposure of students to there potential as future engineers.
Danielle George, Professor of Radio Frequency Engineering and Vice Dean in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Manchester and past President of the IET, closed the remarks by stressing the importance of the engineering economy as the Government strives to consolidate the UK’s position as a science and technology superpower:
“If the government wants to position the UK as a science and technology superpower, it must have a strong pipeline. It must have future engineers. It must infuse them at an early age. We have been letting our children down in this country by not exposing them to high quality engineering education at an early age and therefore limiting their career choices later on in life”.
Speaking about the need for Government action, Professor George went on to say:
“Engineers bring ideas to life. We turn dreams into reality. We make solutions to big problems possible. We design, we fix, we improve. We, we change people's lives and all world for the better. We refuse to stand by any longer and watch our homegrown talent pool be denied. The opportunity that engineering presents to all of us. This is the start of the UK actively Engineering Kids’ Futures. Let's do it.”
The IET’s report comes a year since writing an open letter to the UK Government in November 2021, outlining a proposal to bring together stakeholders across Government, education, the professional institutions, and industry, to explore how engineering can be better embedded into the school curriculum. Since then, the IET has initiated and facilitated a series of roundtables across the UK between March and September 2022.
The roundtables brought together over 100 representatives from a wide range of stakeholder groups (including industry, academia, education, STEM providers and the civil service). The roundtables gathered expert opinion, advice, and evidence regarding potential options for the development of engineering teaching and learning within UK schools. The outputs from the roundtables have formed recommendations for the report.
The IET believes the engineering capability of many of our young people could be amazing if nurtured and developed appropriately. Given appropriate opportunities, guidance and advice regarding the engineering sector, young people could make much better-informed choices regarding their future study and careers, which in turn will contribute to the UK retaining its reputation as a global engineering superpower.
The launch of Engineering Kid’s Futures follows extensive research from the IET 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
For more information about Engineering Kids’ Futures and the series of roundtables with experts from industry, academia, education, Government, and STEM providers, that helped inform the recommendations, please click here.
1. STEM Learning
2. IET Skills Survey 2021
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