Full speed ahead: maintaining UK excellence in motorsport and aerospace - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

5 Equipping the Workforces

103.  If the United Kingdom is to maintain its global leadership in these two industries it is vital to develop workforces with the skills to meet the needs of industry. During the course of this inquiry several issues relating to skills and education were raised by representatives of both the industries and academia. Covering all of these issues in detail merits a report in itself. Therefore this Report has deliberately focused on those topics raised by our witnesses: how to encourage more students to embark on scientific, and ideally engineering careers; the current work developing sector skills strategies; and how to ensure that university courses are equipping student with the skills that industry requires.

Promoting science-based careers

104.  The insufficient number of young people studying STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] subjects was a concern raised several times by our witnesses. BAE Systems argued that "the Government needs to ensure that careers in these sectors are seen as attractive propositions,"[160] while Lola stated that:

engineering which is the back bone of innovation in these sectors is no longer a prized degree […] with the result that fewer people choose to study for a qualification in the engineering disciplines.[161]

105.  Engineering UK, an engineering lobbying group, recently produced a report examining the perceptions of its professions amongst young people, and some of its findings make unhappy reading. Only 12% of 11-16 year-olds claimed to know what engineers do, while:

A worrying 49% of 7-11 year-olds think that it would be 'boring' to be an engineer. Their perceptions of engineers revolve around fixing and repairing things in the manual and mechanical sense plus the view that it is a dirty or messy job.[162]

They are not the only voice raising concerns about the image of engineers in the UK. Dick Oliver, Chairman of BAE Systems, was reported in the press complaining that the use of the word "engineer" to describe people in a range of technical jobs had damaged the reputation of real engineers, making it more difficult to attract young people into engineering careers. He said:

Britain suffers from a language problem in that the word 'engineer' is applied to a lot of different people who do a range of jobs. Professional engineers need to take ownership of the brand and keep it for themselves.[163]

Other countries draw a much stricter division between engineers and technicians which is articulated in everyday language. Germany has gone even further allowing professional engineers to prefix people's names with the title "Engineer", with the abbreviation "Ingr" being used in much the same way that doctors and professors prefix their names with "Dr" and "Prof". [164] China and India have also adopted this practice. Furthermore they are often referred to as "Engineer" when being addressed.

106.  We endorse the views of Dick Oliver, Chairman of BAE Systems that there is a need for professional engineers to reclaim the title of Engineer for themselves. One possible solution to this problem which other countries have adopted is the use of Engineer as a prefix to a person's name, in a similar way that doctors and professors use their profession to refer to themselves. The image of the engineering profession needs to be enhanced for the sake of the aerospace and motorsport industries and the wider economy.

107.  However, Engineering UK's Report offers some hope that young people can be attracted into engineering careers, if they understood what the work really involved. It found that the same age group chose art, design and technology as among their favourite subjects in school. The reasons they gave for enjoying those subjects included "the design and building element and the opportunity to be creative." These are core aspects of the work of an engineer. During our visits we have constantly been impressed by the enthusiasm engineers had for their work, in particular the intellectual and creative challenges posed by their jobs. This enthusiasm was not lost on the Minister:

One of the joys of my present job is seeing the excellence, innovation and intellectual challenge that exists in manufacturing facilities that I visit. […] I think what young people need to recognise is that we have got huge challenges ahead—low carbon challenges and the future of the planet—it is ideas, intellect and scientific innovation that will deal with those issues […][165]

We agree. However the challenge remains to help children make the link between STEM subjects, the activities they enjoy and a career in engineering.[166]

108.  In motorsport and aerospace, both the Government and industry have a wonderful resource to spread this message. The exciting image of motorsport has real potential to get young children interested in science and maths. This has not gone unrecognised. In 2005 the Learning Grid programme was set up to utilise motorsport's image in the promotion of activities designed to engage young people in science and engineering. It encompasses about twenty curriculum-related and quality assured activities from early school age to university.[167]

109.  The industry itself is very supportive of the programme. Mr Aylett, Chief Executive of the Motorsport Industry Association, described the sector's efforts to motivate young people to consider a career in science as "the most important thing that we do".[168] The aerospace industry is engaged in similar work. Rolls-Royce told us about projects that it ran in schools with its graduates going to classrooms to engage with school children and promote scientific subjects with "fun" engineering and aerospace projects.

110.  However, some of the evidence we received has cast doubt over the effectiveness of these programmes in influencing young people's career choices. TTXGP, the organisation that runs the "zero carbon, clean emission" Grand Prix, commented that while programmes such as Learning Grid were to be commended they were "not succeeding in influencing teenagers sufficiently when they are considering their career path."[169] Mr Dickison, Principle Lecturer in Automotive Engineering at Coventry University described it as "an extremely valuable activity" but concluded that "I think you can do more."[170] Similarly the Association of Colleges argued that while "the Learning Grid has had a beneficial impact raising awareness" it believed that "more could have been done to invest in and attract the next generation of skilled people to create a sustainable industry."[171]

111.  The Minister told us that the Government had recently established Manufacturing Insight, which was aimed at raising "the profile of manufacturing by enthusing young people so that they seriously consider a career in manufacturing." He said that it would ensure that media coverage for the sector provides a stronger focus on the positives, particularly in media accessed by young people, their parents and teachers."[172] Furthermore, he believed that:

the design, the innovation and the levels of intellect that are applied within both aerospace and motorsport to take forward the respective industries is really beguiling and, I think, is something that can draw [in] pupils of the highest intellect.[173]

112.  We support the work of Manufacturing Insight to attract young people into the engineering and manufacturing professions. It is important that young people are made aware of the exciting and rewarding careers that manufacturing has to offer. The Government needs to ensure that the work of this body compliments the many excellent projects already being run by industry. We recommend that the Government sets out how Manufacturing Insight will co-ordinate its work with the existing activities in this area run by professional bodies and companies.

113.  Engineering UK also highlighted the lack of awareness of routes other than higher education into the profession as a barrier to young people pursuing a career in engineering. It argued that the perception that a degree is essential to enter the profession, which combined with the fact that physics, the most unpopular subject amongst 11-16 year olds, is normally a pre-requisite for university engineering degrees, led many young people to think that engineering is not for them.[174] Higher education is one route into engineering but it is not the only one. Many engineers who worked as technicians secured vocational qualifications, and at Rolls-Royce and Filton we saw senior managers who had started their career in those companies as apprentices. This alternative route however, is not given sufficient prominence. As UK Engineering's Report notes:

40% of educational professionals and 31% of the general public believe that a first degree is the minimum educational requirement to become an engineer.[175]

Even amongst 16-24 years olds, who had the most awareness of vocational qualifications, only around a third knew about this method of entering the profession.[176]

114.  One mechanism which has been successful in raising awareness is the Young Apprentices Scheme. The scheme offers young people at Key Stage 4 (age 14-16) the opportunity to undertake a work-related qualification delivered through a college alongside their school-based GCSE programme. In addition it seeks to provide 50 days of extended high quality work experience with an employer.[177]

115.  In September 2009, some 9,000 places were made available and the Government plans to increase this to 10,000 in 2010. Research has shown that 95% of the third cohort's entrants, who completed the Young Apprenticeship programme, progressed to further education or training.[178] The Department for Children Schools and Families is currently exploring the future options for the Young Apprenticeship programme including reviewing the funding arrangement, so that Local Authorities have control of both the funding and the commissioning of the programme.[179]

116.  We congratulate the Government on the Young Apprenticeship Scheme which has been highly successful in attracting young people into further education and training. We recommend that BIS be involved in any discussions about the programme's future to ensure that it continues to properly align the demands of young people with the needs of business. We would welcome an update on these discussions in its response to our Report.

Skills strategies

117.  The Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies (SEMTA) leads the delivery of government funding for training and skills development for these sectors. It works with industry, the National Skills Academy for Manufacturing and universities to develop training programmes.

118.  Both sectors are currently in the process of designing skill strategies which will identify the skill needs of their industries. For example, A|D|S is developing a Skills Roadmap which will identify requirements to deliver the National Aerospace Technology Strategy. It is intended to inform the work undertaken by SEMTA to ensure that its skills provision is aligned to demand.[180]

119.  However concerns were voiced that SEMTA was not properly considering the needs of business in developing its skills programmes. Mr Aylett reported that:

SEMTA did create some very original course structure, but it was disjointed, not connected with industry, there was no other connection with any other sector skills council.

The motorsport industry told us that as a result, it withdrew from the debate:

again we ran up a white flag and said, "There's only so much one can do. The engineering courses are excellent in the UK, so let us just go with those and allow this incredible complexity of sector skills councils to run its course". Indeed, in the last few months, since the demise of MDUK, we have tried to re-engage, but we have not had much of an answer yet.[181]

120.  When we put the views of the motorsport industry to the Minister he replied that he wanted to see "motorsport companies come forward with what they think needs to be done by Government to support the sector, and we will work to try to provide that."[182]

121.  The industry's experience of working with the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technology (SEMTA) does not give us confidence that the sector skills agencies have properly engaged with industry, especially in the motorsport sector. The development of a skills strategy for the sector is vital to its success. We recommend that the Minister, as a matter of urgency, facilitate a closer working relationship between SEMTA and the motorsport industry to resolve these differences of views.

Higher education

122.  Both the aerospace and motorsport industries also expressed concern about the number of university students studying STEM subjects, and highlighted the particular problem of retention. Dr Williams compared the attention given to retention rates in STEM subjects to that of medicine:

if 50% of medical students failed to go on to be doctors there would be an outcry, so why is there not an outcry when 50% or thereabouts of engineering students fail to go on to be engineers?

Rolls-Royce agreed saying that it struggled to find undergraduates with sufficient skills. It believed that the shortage was particularly acute in the aerospace industry, as the positive image of the motorsport industry helped it attract engineering graduates.

123.  The Higher Ambitions framework has outlined the Government's proposals for using funding levers in cases where demand-led pressures from employers and students do not stimulate the provision of important skills. The framework stated that it would provide "enhanced support for the 'STEM' subjects […] and other skills that underwrite this country's competitive advantage."[183]

124.  The framework also signals the introduction of a greater element of competitive funding, with more money going to universities "who can best respond to these evolving economic challenges."[184] The Department explicitly stated that:

To allow funds to be diverted to courses that meet strategic skills needs they will be diverted away from institutions whose courses fail to meet high standards of quality or outcome.[185]

125.  We asked the Department for more information about how it planned to implement these proposals. We were told that HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) would keep back £10 million from the funding it gives to universities, which would be directed to help universities increase the proportion of students on STEM courses.[186] However we are not clear whether this is funding for the provision of extra place or funding to promote science to stimulate demand for existing places.

126.  In the longer term, the Department has asked HEFCE to report by spring 2010 on a wide range of issues and options aimed at increasing the proportion of STEM students. The Department has made it clear that it expects HEFCE to have a firm timetable, drawn up by autumn 2010, for implementation in the academic year 2011-12.[187]

127.  We welcome the decision by the Government to take steps to encourage more young people to study STEM subjects at university. Equally we recognise that its proposals to provide greater resource to STEM subjects will result in a reduction in funding to some other courses. This is a decision that we support in times of great stringency for public expenditure. We seek clarification on how the £10 million of funding HEFCE has kept back to increase the proportion of students on STEM courses will be used, and whether it will be used to fund additional places or stimulate student demand for science courses.


128.  There are already a number of motorsport-focused engineering courses at university, which we were told were popular with students. However, several of our witnesses were not convinced that they fully met the needs of industry. When we visited Silverstone, we heard that employers would rather employ a graduate with a degree in engineering than a motorsport degree. This was because motorsport specific courses tended to drop some of the more complex engineering content, such as thermodynamics, for motorsport specific modules such as motorsport management. The MIA highlighted the fact that:

the real quality of the motorsport educational provision is deemed by UK employers to be generally poor and not serving the industry well.[188]

Mr Dickison, an academic who previously worked in the industry expanded on this point:

I have actually been recruiting in people from the university courses for many years and I have found that some of the motorsport courses were very, very light on the real technical subject […] when you said, "Can you calculate how thick that piece needs to be?" they say, "Oh, I didn't do that module".[189]

129.  Mr Dickison believed feedback from industry was necessary to ensure that motorsport courses reflected the needs of industry.[190] He argued that:

there is a huge variety of higher education establishments and their courses are not all the same. What is needed is some formal feedback. It is very difficult for the universities to react when it is just really based on maybe sort of anecdotes.[191]

130.  Representatives of the industry told us that there had been little consultation with industry over the design of the courses. MDUK, the government-industry partnership body was given the task of helping industry to engage with universities and explain to them the sector's requirements. However, industry representatives told us that MDUK had not delivered on this objective:

Originally, the idea for MDUK was that industry would help go through the universities and not accredit them, these poor guys are accredited to death, but actually engage with them and explain this fast-moving business, and that has failed to take place.[192]

131.  Mr Aylett also expressed concern that the current funding system had led to universities using the motorsport brand to fill spaces on courses rather than focus on training which met industries requirements:

Sadly, during this period the universities have been led on a 'bums on seats' reward basis, so they are using the power of motorsport, and it has worked, to attract a lot of students into engineering courses that were otherwise overlooked, but unfortunately the quality and connection with the industry [has not been good enough].[193]

132.  The Minister was clear that there needed to be better engagement between universities and businesses. He argued that "the industry needs to engage with the universities, in that case, and say 'We do not think that what you are providing is right and you need to provide something different and distinctive.'[194] Furthermore, he told us that:

the UK Automotive Council should be involved in that process, or could be involved in that process, so that a more collective view is brought forward. I think that is a good example of how the Council can work.[195]

133.  Other sectors have been able to overcome these challenges through the establishment of accreditation schemes. One such example is Skillset, the sector skill council for the creative industries, which established course accreditation schemes in animation, computer design, and screenwriting. Its submission described how through working with industry it:

accredits those practice-based courses that most effectively provide students with the skills and knowledge that employers need. Currently, there are: in Animation seven under-graduate and one post-graduate; in Computer Games five under-graduate and one post-graduate; and in Screenwriting ten post-graduate.[196]

134.  Courses purporting to be "motorsport" engineering must produce graduates with the skills that the industry requires, this is currently not the case. We welcome the approach to accrediting courses that has been taken in other sectors. We recommend that the Government, working with SEMTA, industry and universities explores the feasibility of establishing a similar programme for the motorsport industry.


135.  The aerospace industry highlighted its concerns on the UK's over-reliance on overseas engineering students, in particular at post-graduate level. BAE believed that the growing dependence on overseas postgraduates for aerospace research was starting to affect the UK's ability to transfer knowledge to other wealth-creating industries.[197] Mr Keen, its Head of Government Relations, expanded on this point in relation to the defence industry:

That is an issue particularly in the defence field, […] inasmuch as it is more problematic to have overseas students involved in defence matters. […] The ideal solution would be to see more UK graduates going into postgraduate study, but it is difficult to see how that is going to happen.[198]

Dr Williams, Head of Business Development, Research & Technology at Airbus agreed that it was a problem and pointed out that Airbus had recruited the majority of its previous year's intake of graduates from France and Germany.

136.  However, when we raised this issue with academics at Bristol University they did not see it as a problem. They asserted that many foreign students remained in the UK after they had trained and made a valuable contribution to the economy. Rather than reducing the numbers they believed that the Government should actively encourage the best overseas students to come to Britain through the provision of scholarships. Furthermore they argued that universities benefited from overseas post-graduates as they made larger contributions to the costs of their education than their domestic equivalents.

137.  Mr Mans acknowledged that there were two sides to this argument:

On the one hand, clearly universities want to attract as many foreign students as possible. There is a high percentage of postgraduates in the UK from abroad. That in one sense is a good thing, but, on the other side, I would argue that there is probably going to be a steady migration of some of the knowledge to our competitors in the medium and long term.[199]

138.  There is clearly a balance to be struck between supporting home-grown talent and utilising the skills which come from overseas students; attracting the best international talent to the UK will enhance our industry's competitiveness but only if those students continue to work for British companies. The Government needs to keep this under review to ensure that an appropriate equilibrium is maintained; it is right that the skills of young people in the United Kingdom are fully developed so that we do not become over-dependant on overseas students.

160   Ev 93 Back

161   Ev 114 Back

162   Engineering UK, Engineering UK 2009/10, p 42 Back

163   "BAE chief throws a spanner in the works for gas fitters and repairmen", The Financial Times, 1 March 2010 Back

164   For example, in German, 'ingenieur' means a chartered engineer, and 'techniker' means a technician; in French, 'ingénieur' means a chartered engineer and 'dépanneur' means a technician. Back

165   Q 362 Back

166   Engineering UK, Engineering UK 2009-10, p 42 Back

167   Ev 68 Back

168   Q 183 [Mr Aylett] Back

169   Ev 143 Back

170   Q 181-182 Back

171   Ev 91 Back

172   Ev 74 Back

173   Q 344 Back

174   Engineering UK, Engineering UK 2009-10, p 42 Back

175   Engineering UK, Engineering UK 2009-10, p 42 Back

176   Engineering UK, Engineering UK 2009-10, p 42 Back

177   Ev 74 Back

178   Ev 74 Back

179   Ev 74 Back

180   Visit to Airbus, Filton. Back

181   Q 190 Back

182   Q 353 Back

183   Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Higher Ambition: the future of universities in a knowledge economy, November 2009, p 45 Back

184   Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Higher Ambition: the future of universities in a knowledge economy, November 2009, p 12 Back

185   Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Higher Ambition: the future of universities in a knowledge economy, November 2009, p 45 Back

186   Ev 75 Back

187   Ev 75 Back

188   Ev 121 Back

189   Q 186 Back

190   Q 186 Back

191   Q 187 Back

192   Q 189 Back

193   Q 189 Back

194   Q 360 Back

195   Q 361 Back

196   Ev 135 Back

197   Ev 94 Back

198   Q 111 [Mr Keen] Back

199   Q 111[Mr Mans] Back

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