Science and TechnologyWritten evidence submitted by National Skills Academy Process Industries

The UK Government’s Science and Technology Committee published its report Engineering in Government on 30 April 2012 with a request for written submissions on the following matters by 18 June 2012. This response has been prepared by the National Skills Academy Process Indusries, in collaboration with the North East of England Process Industry Cluster.

1. Does the current engineering skills base meet the needs of employers?

Do employers in the engineering sector prefer an academic or a vocational profile?

In the current recession the vocational skills base is more than capable to meet workload demand with some estimates of 30% unemployment of the engineering construction workforce. However, if construction levels return to previous levels (eg 2007) there would be a significant shortage of resources, perhaps as high as 20%. Vocational training generally satisfies employers’ needs. In recent years surveys of employers have led to changes in qualification content and the establishment of competence verification schemes. Where gaps in training provision have been identified eg planning and supervision, courses have been developed and qualifications approved by national bodies.

Currently demand for experienced graduate/chartered engineers is outstripping supply in some disciplines, eg electrical, control and chemical engineers. If capital projects increase, the skills base shortfall would be acute. The applicability of graduate courses to industrial need have been criticised by employers and should be regularly reviewed by both academic institutions and the engineering institutes. In summary graduates who are involved in employer-led graduate training schemes do generally meet the needs of employers.

Employer preference for academic or vocational profiles is dependent upon the specific job role. Some companies will opt for academic graduates as they are able to achieve chartered status more quickly. However engineers with vocational qualifications up to foundation degree level are often perceived to be more “industry ready” after qualifying. For technician/planning roles vocational qualifications are usually preferred.

2. What impact will recent changes relating to engineering qualifications in England have on the uptake of technical subjects and the skills base needed by the engineering sector?

The uptake of STEM (science, technology, engineering & mathematics) subjects by young people is unlikely to be affected by recent changes relating to engineering qualifications in England. Initially it is highly unlikely that the new qualifications will be sufficiently understood in the education system or in industry, to have a positive impact on recruitment to the sector. However, in the longer term and provided sufficient and positive promotion is given, there is a chance that this could produce the desired impact.

The highly successful Children Challenging Industry Programme, managed by the Chemical Industry Education Centre at the University of York is an excellent example of engaging with children at an early age, together with teaching staff, to attract more people to study STEM subjects and take up careers in industry.1 This programme should receive direct Government support.

3. How do approaches taken by the Devolved Administrations to produce a technically skilled workforce differ to the approach in England? What are the strengths/weakness of the different approaches?

The problems of attracting young people to study STEM subjects is UK-wide, although a report produced for the Welsh Assembly Government in January 2011 indicated that this was significantly worse than the rest of the UK. The recent appointment of a Chief Scientific Officer to oversee STEM education in Wales could have a positive impact.

Recent publications of Economic and Skills Strategies (March 2012) for Northern Ireland focussed on the need to increase the talent pool of scientists and technologists.

In Scotland a refreshed Skills Strategy was issued in 2011, again with the intention of high-lighting the need for highly skilled people, but recent college closures and a reduction in engineering places is cause for concern.

In summary, there does not appear to be any outstanding differences in the approaches taken in any of the four nations to address these issues.

4. Could the Government and others do more to raise the status of technical subjects?

Without doubt there is much that the Government could do to improve the perception of science and engineering and the amazing career opportunities available. Initiatives such as reduced tuition fees at University for such training and tax incentives for employers recruiting apprentices are options for consideration.

The hugely successful Tees Valley Apprenticeship Programme (TVAP) which ran from 2010 to 2012, and assisted engineering apprentices in the region, is an example of what can be achieved.2 Future projects of this nature should be encouraged.

5. What more should be done to attract and retain a more diverse technically skilled workforce?

Perception of science and engineering careers remains low, and any programmes aimed at improving this should be encouraged and where possible receive additional funding from Government. The aforementioned CIEC activity is a prime example, together with the careers advice available through Cogent Sector Skills Council.3

June 2012

1 www.ciec.org.uk

2 www.nsa-tvap.co.uk

3 www.cogent-careers.com

Prepared 7th February 2013