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Government urged to tackle £1.5bn engineering skills shortage via education

Image credit: Roman Stetsyk | Dreamstime

The government must help tackle the UK’s engineering skills shortage by embedding engineering into the current curriculum, according to a new report, endorsed by over 150 engineering leaders and celebrities, led by the IET.

The IET’s new 'Engineering Kids’ Futures' (EKF) report leads with a series of recommendations to the UK government to embed engineering and technology within primary and secondary learning. The report also carries signatories from the likes of Major Tim Peake, Carol Vorderman MBE, will.i.am, and representatives from Rolls Royce, Vodafone and the MOD.

It is estimated there is a shortfall of over 173,000 workers in the STEM sector: an average of 10 unfilled roles per business in the UK, which is costing the economy a shocking £1.5bn per annum, according to STEM Learning data. Furthermore, 49 per cent of engineering businesses are experiencing difficulties in the skills available to them when trying to recruit, as revealed by the IET Skills Survey in 2021.

Report recommendations include:

  • The National Curriculum – the English schools National Curriculum should be reviewed to embed the teaching of engineering, at both primary and secondary levels of education.
  • The Design & Technology Curriculum – the current D&T curriculum at secondary level should be reviewed to refocus it as an ‘engineering and design’ subject, with a possible rebranding of the subject accordingly.
  • The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – school accountability measures (Progress 7 and Attainment 8) should be reviewed to move D&T into the EBacc suite of subjects.
  • Engineering training for teachers – the UK government should endorse, actively promote, signpost and support an engineering package of training aligned with the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) core content framework.
  • Bursaries and scholarships – UK government-funded ITT bursaries and scholarships in engineering should be reviewed to increase their value and availability.

David Lakin, the IET's head of education, safeguarding and education policy, said: “As we know, subjects like science and maths are eagerly taught in schools, but connecting them to engineering – the link between these subjects, their purpose and application to the world in which we live – is not currently being made clear.

“We need to ensure there are clearer learning outcomes for these subjects. Put simply, we need to embed engineering into the mainstream curriculum. One way we can do this is by reviewing the current D&T curriculum, which is a key engineering and technology gateway subject, and give it more importance in the EBacc suite of subjects. Teacher training is also a key factor and providing an engineering package aligned with the initial teacher training core content framework is vital to enhance a teacher’s understanding and confidence around talking about engineering in the classroom.

“There are many options and the engineering community is ready to help develop and implement these to support government in implementing these recommendations. Our aim to significantly increase the number of quality engineers and technicians entering the workforce can only be achieved by letting young people see the opportunities that a career in the engineering sector presents.”

The report is supported by new IET research, carried out online by Opinion Matters in November 2022 among a panel resulting in 1,020 parents (aged 20+) with children aged 5-18 responding.

The survey findings include:

  • 70 per cent of parents believe primary and secondary education doesn’t teach children about the real-life application of the subjects they learn about.
  • More than half of parents (55 per cent) agree that without formal teaching in engineering and technology – e.g. the application of subjects such as science and maths – they are worried their child won’t be able to make informed career choices.
  • 69 per cent of parents say that it is essential primary school children are exposed to engineering and technology at a young age to spark interest in these fields.
  • Almost half of parents (47 per cent) agree that engineering and technology should be a compulsory core subject at GCSE.
  • 53 per cent of parents think there is too much emphasis on science, maths and english within the current curriculum.
  • 60 per cent of parents say that schools don't do enough to encourage young girls to consider engineering and technology career options.
  • 39 per cent think the current school curriculum leaves their children least prepared for a career in engineering and technology.
  • 64 per cent of parents say it's been more than ten years since they learnt about engineering or technology.
  • Over half of parents (55 per cent) also rely solely on the school curriculum when it comes to teaching their children about these two subjects, with 61 per cent saying they would struggle to explain to their child which careers require engineering and technology qualifications.

The IET’s 'Engineering Kids’ Futures' report is available online now. The report will be presented to MPs and Peers at an event in Westminster today (Wednesday 7 December 2022).

The production of the report follows a series of roundtable events which took place in cities across the UK, including Bristol, London, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow, as well as locations in Wales and Northern Ireland.

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