Concerns over the future of UK engineering

This year’s GCSE results have shown a 26% increase in pupils retaking maths to reach grade C or above, as well as a fall in the number of pupils achieving a pass mark in Physics and Design and Technology. This has led to a call for grassroots change to encourage young people into engineering.

Further than this, The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) says that the pressure for schools to adopt the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) could effectively mean that schools drop ‘non-core’ subjects such as Design & Technology from the syllabus altogether.

Stephanie Fernandes, IET principal policy advisor of education and skills, said: “Given engineering currently accounts for 27% of our total GDP, and we are expecting a shortfall of 1.82million new engineers over the next decade, removing subjects like D&T from the curriculum is incredibly short sighted.

“D&T is vital for engaging young people in the creative and problem fixing side of engineering. If they don’t have this opportunity at school, it is inevitable we will produce fewer engineers, which represents a genuine risk to our economy.”

Today’s exam results highlights an issue confirmed by a recent OECD study. The study suggests school performance in the UK could be boosted by improving confidence - among girls especially - towards tackling maths and science, and by parents encouraging their children to consider careers involving subjects such as engineering.

Kieron Salter, managing director of KW Special Projects (KWSP), commented: “The UK has a huge deficit of engineers. According to a recent government report, the sector has the potential to contribute an additional £27billion to the economy by 2022, but only if we can fill the 250,000 engineering vacancies needed to deliver on this potential in the same timeframe. With only 8% of roles within the industry held by women, there’s huge untapped potential here.”

The OECD report confirms that girls’ confidence in maths is low from an early age, effectively cutting them off from even considering engineering as a career aspiration. Salter added that as a country we need to present maths and science to girls in a way that builds their confidence and encourages them to both enjoy and adopt maths as a foundation for further education.

“If we can do this, more girls will consider science-based degrees and therefore improve the quota of women in engineering,” Salter said

Naomi Climer, president of the IET, wrote today in the Telegraph, that she would like to see more schools adopt the International Baccalaureate (IB) Over the EBacc. Where the EBacc rules out more artistic subjects like D&T to focus on core subjects, the IB comprises English, maths, a science, a language and an “individuals and societies” subject (such as history, geography or economics), plus a sixth subject.

“Forcing sixth form students to make narrow subject choices that will inadvertently limit their career choices later in life is a clear risk to the pipeline of engineers within the UK,” said Climer. “More widespread adoption of the IB would not only stop pupils writing off certain careers and fields of study at university, it would also buy them more time to gain a better understanding of where their personal areas of interest and academic strength lie.”

Crucially, the rest of the world continues to develop and evolve its engineering capabilities and this generates more competition than ever before. If the UK is to continue the legacy it has created as a true innovator, then it must work harder collectively. This includes industry, educators and the government engaging with young people and inspiring them to look upon engineering as an attractive potential career.