Children urged to take science and maths in new report

Primary children urged to study maths and science

The UK will need an extra two million engineers by the time today’s primary school children are of working age, according to a new report.

EngineeringUK’s annual report on the state of UK engineering found the estimated requirement for employees over the next five to 10 years will be an additional 2,217,500 engineers. The report has predicted a growth wave in engineering jobs, but said jobs would move abroad if the UK skills base could not meet the need.

Paul Jackson, chief executive of EngineeringUK said the message for parents, teachers and young people in the UK was “take physics and maths” – two of the subjects required for most engineering careers.

“We must make sure our children keep their options open in order to be able to play a role in this growing industry. If a lack of skilled workers means that we can’t take advantage of emerging technologies, the industry and the jobs will go elsewhere.

“One of our underlying challenges is to re-invigorate public perception about what it means to be an engineer in the twenty-first century. From large infrastructure projects like Crossrail or next year’s Olympics, to the massive impact at a microscopic level of robotic surgery or blood monitors that will help diabetes sufferers, there are numerous excellent opportunities to showcase UK feats of engineering,” Jackson said.

EngineeringUK’s report said engineering generated £1.15 trillion in turnover in the year ending March 2010 – nearly 25 per cent of the turnover of all business in the UK. The report said that engineering was central to ensuring economic growth and played a major role in helping to tackle global challenges, including climate change, health, food security, biodiversity, water security, population and energy security.

In the UK, the challenge for the engineering, manufacturing and science sectors was to develop and exploit emerging technologies, such as advanced manufacturing, manu-services, and low carbon and environmental goods and services.  But the UK could only achieve success in these fields if future graduates had skills rooted in maths and the sciences, the report said.

EngineeringUK’s report also found that GCSE biology, chemistry and physics had all tripled their size over ten years, and in 2011, the number of entrants for physics rose by 16.4 per cent. However, Jackson said challenges still existed in encouraging girls to take maths and physics A Levels.

“In 2010, 16,624 students achieved an A*-C grade in both maths and physics A Level, generally considered a pre-requisite to studying a degree in engineering. Of these, just 21.4 per cent were female. Only 8.7 per cent of professional engineers, in the UK, are female. This is the lowest percentage in Europe.” 

Jackson said EngineeringUK based its work on evidence from the report.  “We are closely monitoring girls’ involvement in our programmes, which make a dramatic impact upon attitudes toward science and engineering. Over 50 per cent of young people registered to attend The Big Bang Fair next March are girls and there is a 50/50 split of girls and boys involved in our Tomorrow’s Engineers programme,” he said.

EngineeringUK was working with the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and the Institute of Physics to develop a programme of careers resources that provide clear, consistent guidance for young people aged between nine and 16 and their teachers, Jackson said.

Business Minister Mark Prisk said: “As this report shows, engineers will be at the forefront of our rebalanced economy, which is why we are working now to encourage young people to think about a career in engineering. Our See Inside Manufacturing initiative, where we open doors to factories so people can see what modern manufacturing is actually like, and the Make it in Great Britain campaign where we will be showcasing the best of British manufacturing at the Science museum during the 2012 Olympics, are both aimed at changing people’s perceptions about what modern industry is like. That way, we can inspire our young people to be our inventors and engineers of the future.”

Other findings in the report included:

- The UK is the seventh largest manufacturing nation in the world, behind the US, China, Japan, Germany, Italy and France.

- Specialist maths and science teachers are critical if children are to reach their potential within STEM subjects and ultimately pursue engineering careers.

- Manufacturing is a major investor in Research & Development – of the top 25 UK companies by R&D spend, eight are from the manufacturing sector.

- The mean starting salary for graduates in engineering and technology is £24,953 – the fourth highest behind medicine and dentistry, business and administrative studies, and combined subjects. By comparison, the average mean starting salary for all graduates was £22,364.

- Within the engineering sub-disciplines, graduates in general engineering earn the highest mean starting salary at £29,361.

- Research by BIS shows the return on an undergraduate engineering degree is around £157,000 for men but just below £100,000 for women.

Further reading:

Read the EngineeringUK report.

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