Jeremy Corbyn vows to change education to prevent female ‘discrimination’ in engineering
Women and girls are not being given the chance to enter the engineering sector from an early age, which is negatively impacting productivity, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said.
Speaking at the EEF’s annual conference, he said that while women now account for 43 per cent of Britain’s overall GDP, only 8 per cent of professional engineers are female.
He accused the government of doing little to change this and cites the fact that the proportion of female engineers has remained static while there has actually been a decline in those working in high-tech industries since the Conservative Party took power in 2010.
“The importance of their work cannot be underestimated,” Corbyn said, singling out the IET’s former president Naomi Climer for playing a “pioneering leadership role in engineering”.
“My view is if we don’t give women a decent chance in life and don’t give girls a decent chance in schools then we end up discriminating against them, which produces a less productive industry.
“We have to raise the esteem of engineering and manufacturing at a very early age and the idea that you can be an engineer whether you’re a boy or a girl from the very beginning.”
Corbyn said that the issue wasn’t “just as a matter of social justice” but an “economic imperative” in order to build a prosperous economy, especially considering the challenges faced by Brexit.
Speaking about what Labour would do if it won the next election to remedy these issues, he said: “We will put vocational education - too often the poor relation of our education system - at the heart of our national education service.
“Ensuring that science and technical learning start early in primary schools. Children in primary schools should engage in practical learning from a very young age, not just through the classroom but through play and activities. The importance of construction toys and science games are so important for very young children to understand how things work and why they work.
“That must also carry on through to secondary school where practical skills mean that young people are better able to understand the whole concept of engineering and design.”
Meanwhile, Corbyn blamed the current government’s approach to Brexit for exacerbating the UK’s skills crisis in technical industries, an issue which is turning into a “catastrophe” for manufacturers.
Corbyn favours a no-tariff relationship with Europe where barriers to trade are very low.
“If you look at Ford motor company and its engines, those engines cross the channel several times before they’re completed. Most of them end up back in Europe at the end of it,” he said.
“If you have a tariff arrangement between Britain and Europe for that process, it simply won’t happen.
“Same with Airbus, same with Rolls Royce, same with BMW and same with all the big manufacturing companies.
“There has to be a trading relationship with Europe and it’s best to achieve that through negotiation rather than threatening an undercutting economy on the shores of Europe.”
“We’re a country that has developed and made the most amazing things: steam engines, railways, canals, roads, computers, jet engines. But we’ve been very bad at taking those things through to manufacturers because we don’t put the money in it.”
He remarks contrast with those made by international trade secretary Liam Fox earlier in the day.
Fox, a consistently Euro-sceptic politician, believes that Brexit will provide a boost to the UK’s manufacturing sector as it provides greater scope to export to the rest of the world, especially developing economies like those in Africa and Asia.