The head of the IET has given oral evidence to a House of Commons inquiry into ‘Engineering Skills’.
Nigel Fine, chief executive of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), Europe’s largest professional engineering institution, represented the engineering profession through the Education for Engineering (E4E) alliance.
Key skills issues facing the engineering sector include the need for a mix of both academic and vocational training to be offered so that technical learning opportunities are provided for everyone who wishes to pursue them.
“More work needs to be done to improve the public’s understanding of what engineering is and the diversity of engineering jobs and careers, including vocational routes and especially apprenticeships," Fine said.
“Properly accredited and approved engineering apprenticeship schemes provide a high-quality alternative to traditional academic routes.
"Starting an apprenticeship should be seen as the first step to a successful engineering career with clear pathways through to the most senior roles.”
Fine highlighted the value of technical education to complement the English Baccalaureate, for example the application of science and mathematics using Design & Technology and the Engineering Diploma at Key Stages 2 and 3.
“Careers advice in the UK is very poor,” he said. “Schools are still focused on sending pupils to university rather than through vocational and technical pathways.
“It is important to recognise that both routes are equally valuable. Teachers and careers advisors within schools must do more to raise awareness of these routes as a viable option for their students.”
E4E strongly believes that to encourage the study of technical subjects, young people must be engaged pre-14 so they can make an informed decision about subject choices.
If this is not addressed, there will be a worryingly small pipeline of young people going on to pursue technical careers, resulting in a continuing skills gap and negative consequences for the UK economy.
Data from the IET’s 2012 'Skills and Demand in Industry Annual Survey' shows that the engineering workforce age profile continues to increase, which could become problematic if more young people do not enter the profession.
Matthew Harrison from the Royal Academy of Engineering talked about the ‘Jobs and Growth’ report and the recent developments on the Engineering Diploma.
Bill Mitchell from the BCS gave oral evidence on the need to reintroduce computer science, programming and more challenging aspects of ICT back into the school curriculum.