The skills of graduate engineers underpin the UK economy

Royal Academy of Engineering warns of skills shortage

Engineering skills are in demand in all sectors of the economy but are in short supply, a new report warns.

Published by the Royal Academy of Engineering, the report, 'Jobs and growth: the importance of engineering skills to the UK economy', draws on many different sources to conclude that the UK does not produce enough engineers.

It also brings together evidence on the labour-market returns from science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) qualifications as well as examining the link between STEM education, training and qualifications and economic growth.

Around 1.25 million science, engineering and technology professionals and technicians are needed by 2020, including a high proportion of engineers, to support the UK's economic recovery.

"We need an increase in the number of STEM graduates over the next 10 years in support of rebalancing the UK economy," said Sir John Parker GBE FREng, president of the Academy.

"Only with such a framework and vision in place can we create the pull that defines our future educational and skills needs.

"We must encourage employers to work with universities with the aim of producing more engineers."

The report's analysis shows that the combined replacement and expansion demand for science, engineering and technology (SET) occupations will be 830,000 SET professionals and 450,000 SET technicians, but this is merely to maintain the industry on an even keel rather than to support strong growth.

Around 80 per cent of these people will be in engineering and technology-related roles.

The minimum number of STEM graduates required just to maintain the status quo is 100,000 a year with a further 60,000 individuals with Level 3+ (broadly equivalent to A-Level) STEM qualifications for the period 2012-20.

However, only 90,000 STEM students currently graduate annually and, as around a quarter of engineering students choose non-SET occupations, there is already a shortfall.

"As rising wages and wide distribution of SET occupations in the economy show, STEM qualifications are portable and valuable," said Professor Matthew Harrison, director of engineering and education at the Academy, and author of the report.

"All young people should have access to them as a means of social mobility and to strengthen the economy.

"Their importance to both individuals and the economy justifies a history of government intervention to address the shortage of people with STEM qualifications."

The report also found that:

- Demand for STEM skills will exceed supply in the foreseeable future.

Independent models of future skills demand predict shortages of STEM-qualified people for all occupational levels of SET.

Much of this is replacement demand is resulting from skilled people leaving the labour market as well as areas such as nuclear new build and premium vehicle manufacture where demand is driven by expansion.

- Assessments of national strategic risk show that engineers are needed in vital industries and services such as energy, water, sanitation, communications and IT systems.

Rising wage premiums, coupled with warnings of skill shortages from employers, show that current resources are stretched thin and the median age of the Chartered engineer rises 10 years for every 14 that elapse.

- The lack of women engineers is well known. 

There is evidence to suggest under-representation of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds amongst those applying for STEM degrees, although more research is required.

- The higher wage returns, coupled with known under-representation of certain socio-economic groups in SET occupations and people holding STEM qualifications, provide justification for successive governments' focus on numeracy and on participation in and access to STEM qualifications.

Further information:

See the full report

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