In 2013, John Perkins published a “landmark review” of engineering skills; in 2018 — to mark the fifth anniversary of its publication — the Royal Academy of Engineering (www.raeng.org.uk
) invited Professor Perkins to oversee a retrospective evaluation of progress to date.
In his report that followed this assessment, he said the good news is that engineering has a newly acquired self-confidence in its messaging that “takes us beyond simply describing skills as a leaking pipeline — rather presenting the sector as ‘a precious national asset’ and the ‘ultimate people-focused profession’.
There is also now a Government strategy to boost engineering skills and industry.”
The report says there are also some real challenges, especially in our schools, where shortages of teachers in key subjects, plus accountability measures that do not easily favour subjects such as design and technology, are contributing to stagnation at the early stage of the skills journey.
The most significant changes in the skills policy domain identified in the report relate to technical education, with “special pleading” for the engineering community to give the apprenticeship levy and T-levels time to work.
“There are also some strong messages for Government. First, it must boost funding to the further-education sector, which is in a ‘parlous state’. Second, there needs to be an attitudinal shift to overturn cultural bias against vocational training.
This will rely on the strength of the Government’s commitment to technical pathways, and it means ensuring parity of status and funding with academic routes, alongside a recognition that such a major cultural challenge will require flexibility and tolerance from all stake-holders.”
Peter Finegold, head of education and skills at the IMechE, said: “The first of the report’s 15 recommendations is key, if we don’t want 2023 to feel like 2013.
Although the engineering community is tasked with a number of actions, if the UK is to address the persistent skills and diversity issues, it is the Government that must provide visible leadership.
"That must include appointing a ministerial lead for engineering, assigning an MP in a supporting role as engineering champion, and establishing a UK-wide ministerial advisory group of expert and influential stakeholders.”