A much needed debate on engineering skills | EEF

A much needed debate on engineering skills

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Tomorrow, Peter Luff MP will lead a much needed Westminster Hall debate on the Perkins' Review of Engineering Skills.

There is some good stuff in Perkins. Actually there is some great stuff. We must build on the momentum of the Perkins' Review and the highly successful Tomorrow's Engineers Week and get a grip on the fact that manufacturing and engineering companies are suffering from a lack of skills and we need to take action now. If we don't, the engineering skills gap will only worsen.

Much of the focus of the Perkins' Review rightly focused on boosting the pipeline of talent into industry. Indeed many of the recommendations are aimed at getting young people interested in engineering. These include:

Getting the wider engineering community together to agree and deliver a set of core messages to young people.

Rolling out the Tomorrow's Engineers employer engagement programme.

Delivering a high profile campaign targeted at 11 to 14 year olds, in particular girls, and for industry to host an annual event in celebration.

Such measures will be hugely effective. Take for example the positive impacts of events like the Big Bang Fair, whereby:

75% of 12 to 14 year olds viewed engineering more positively as a result of their visit.

90% of 8 to 11 year olds learned more about science by coming to The Fair.

If industry wants to recruit the next generation of engineers, it needs to go out and find them, but other parties, including schools, must play a role.

Schools need to deliver impartial, independent and importantly face to face careers advice. When we asked manufacturers what they thought would get more young people into manufacturing, amongst the top of their list was careers advice. Sounds obvious yet seems to be the biggest challenge we have.

Schools have not been clear guidance on how to deliver careers provision, yet have sole responsibility for delivering it. Yes the bleak guidance includes a line on encouraging engagement with employers, but this isn't enough.

Employers should be at the heart of supporting schools deliver careers provision through work experience, site visits, careers talks and more.

Engineering UK found that only 31% of STEM educators feel confident in giving engineering careers advice, so why don't bring in the experts?

Perceptions on Apprenticeships aren't changing at the rate we would like to see either. At the National Skills Show, the Royal Academy of Engineering published some interesting research showing:

Only a third of parents said they see apprenticeships as a viable option for their children.

That five years ago it was not something they would have considered.

For manufacturers, raising awareness of apprenticeships is another primary driver to get young people into manufacturing and engineering, so the need to overcome these perceptions is crucial.

Manufacturers also say that STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) based initiatives that broker the relationship between schools and employers is another way forward to booster the talent pipe. It is unsurprising then that EEF members are engaged in endless numbers of initiatives in a bid to get the ball rolling. The drawback of this good work is that it can often be a postcode lottery.

We need then to focus on breaking down the barriers that still remain.

There is probably some myth busting to do first. Many employers don't know for example that CRB checks aren't needed for students aged 17 and over, or that risk assessments are now carried out yearly or that work experience is covered by usual employer liability insurance.

But real barriers continue to exist, with time being the biggest one. That's why having brokerage schemes are so important. But they must reach out to all employers and where possible be tailored to meet businesses' needs.

Small firms also struggle to be ‘seen' by schools and young people, often shadowed at careers fairs and talks, and don't know where to go to find information on engaging with school or who to contact.

It's an all-round challenge to get young people to meet their potential future employers.

Employers need to step up to the plate, getting more involved in offer work experience, site visits, factory visits and talks in schools. Schools need to open their doors to employers and be more open to offering advice on various education pathways and career choices.

Government needs to put the right frameworks in place to allow such relationships to be built, and be maintained.

And we need more champions like Peter Luff leading this debate in Parliament to move this important issue up the Government's agenda.


Head of Education & Skills Policy

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