Home >Upskill engineers and support apprenticeships, urges new report
Upskill engineers and support apprenticeships, urges new report
31 January 2019
A shake-up in UK engineering education is needed to address the current skills gap and shortage of engineers, a new report has revealed. Engineering Skills for the Future - the 2013 Perkins review revisited calls for more support for higher education institutions and apprenticeships, and the upskilling of engineers to manage increasing digitalisation in their industry.
The report marks five years on from Engineering skills: Perkins review; when chemical engineer Professor John Perkins, a Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), was commissioned by the Government to undertake the first review of engineering education from primary to professional level.
His latest instalment revisits the original challenges and recommendations set out in 2013; in order to provide a roadmap for government and the engineering community to action, now and into the future.
There has been increased support for apprenticeships and the introduction of Technician Level (T Levels) in the last five years. The latest report recommends that the recently introduced apprenticeship levy should give more spending control to organisations; and subject content in T Levels should provide a broad technical education across disciplines, to enable students to have a broad range of routes into an engineering career, or higher education.
IChemE is supportive of this work. It has partnered with the University of Chester to offer the first chemical engineering degree apprenticeship in the UK and is currently working to ensure the degree is IChemE accredited.
According to the report, the UK’s track record of work placements is poor, and organisations have found it challenging to support the 45-day industrial placement required as part of T Levels. With 90% of the engineering businesses having fewer than 10 people, there are concerns the infrastructure is not robust enough to support and nurture professional development through work placements.
Work placements were highlighted as an advantage to employment prospects in IChemE’s 2017 report Social mobility and the chemical engineering profession in the UK. Support for the professional development of young chemical engineers and the provision of industrial work placements are actively encouraged in the requirements to become an IChemE Corporate Partner.
The uncertainty around Britain’s impending exit from the EU has also been highlighted in the report as a potential issue. Almost 560,000 EU Nationals are employed in UK engineering sectors, jobs that look uncertain with no clear immigration policy post-Brexit. The issue is particularly problematic when considering the UK current shortfall of around 37,000 – 59,000, in engineering roles requiring Level 3+ skills.
Since the original Perkins Review, scant progress has been made in addressing the UK’s chronic engineering skills gap too. The report calls on government and the engineering community to upskill engineers and technicians to prepare for a wave of disruptive digital technologies into industry. It is hoped that Brexit presents an opportunity here, providing a stimulus for employers to think more strategically about unlocking the skills potential of their workforce.
Professional Engineering Institutions are cited as having a pivotal role in the upskilling of engineers, by providing a ‘hub’ between industry and individuals to ensure both needs are met. Professional registration was also specified as conferring mobility to engineers, as they highlight key competencies and skills.
IChemE contributed to the Higher Education section of the report, which acknowledges there has been an upward trend in the number of undergraduate engineering students since the last review. Female representation remains stubbornly low at an overall 15% across all engineering disciplines. However, latest figures from the UK’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) reveals that chemical engineer bucks the trend, with 27% of undergraduates being female.
In Scotland and Wales post-16 academic pathways are becoming broader and more inclusive. However, the report recommends an urgent review of post-16 education in England, to encourage more students from a broader range of backgrounds into further and higher engineering education. The current system was criticised for narrowing education choices, potentially closing the door to technical and creative careers.
The report also recommends that the engineering community, including Professional Engineering Institutions, sign up to a Code of Practice to reduce fragmentation and improve the coordination of STEM outreach in schools. Currently over 600 organisations operate in the ‘UK STEM education’ space; however only 28% of 11-14 year olds have participated in STEM careers activities in the last year.
Libby Steele, Head of Education Affairs at IChemE, said: “We’re delighted to have contributed to the report and welcome the recommendations. We are supporting chemical engineers in several areas of professional development and will continue to work collaboratively with others to support this.
“There is so much diversity to a career in engineering, highlighted by the This is Engineering campaign. As a professional qualifying body and a learned society, we encourage students to consider all routes to a career in chemical and process engineering.”
The publication of the report coincides with the launch of a new set of adverts from This Is Engineering, a campaign to raise awareness of the breadth of careers in engineering. The campaign is led by the Royal Academy of Engineering and was developed in response to a recommendation in the original Perkins Review.
Professor John Perkins CBE, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, who led this report, said:
“Engineering is enormously valuable to the UK economy but suffers from a chronic shortage of skills, let down by the leaking pipes of the education system that removes the option of an engineering career for too many young people at every stage of their education. There has been scant progress in addressing the UK’s engineering skills gap since I first reviewed the education system five years ago, but the government’s Year of Engineering campaign in 2018 has shown what can be achieved with concerted and coordinated action. As a profession, we must now continue to raise the profile of engineering nationally and leverage this to galvanise change for the better.
“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.”