With the election now behind us and the cabinet ministers appointed in their new roles, the key question we need to ask is: what can we expect from this new Government with respect to engineering, manufacturing and innovation?
In the lead up to the election, the IMechE, IET and EEF all promoted their manifestos on engineering and manufacturing to the prospective parliamentary candidates throughout the country. Many PPCs pledged their support on the critical issues that face this sector, with the Conservative campaign giving many references to science and innovation and pledging over £1billion support funding over the next five years. Alongside this, there were many references throughout the campaign to apprenticeships and the importance of STEM education.
There is no doubt that the UK economy needs a successful engineering and manufacturing sector. The engineering sector is worth £800 billion a year and manufacturing alone brings £140 billion to the UK Economy. Over 4.5 million people work in UK engineering, with over 480,000 engineering businesses in the UK and 72 % of our R&D expenditure coming from the manufacturing sector.
UK engineering and manufacturing is prospering, but the sector faces a critical skills shortage. The number of people entering the profession has been steadily falling for many years; the jobs are available, but we are lacking the highly skilled people needed to fill the roles. We are failing to inspire enough young people to explore the exciting possibilities of a career in engineering. The UK will need over a million engineers and technicians by 2020 and this will require a doubling of annual engineering graduates and apprentices.
The problem was most clearly illustrated recently by Sir James Dyson. He is quoted as saying: “If we can get 300 [engineering graduates] we’ll be doing well. We would recruit 2,000 if we could. We have got the technology and the ideas. We just need the people.” This lack of skilled workers and managers will drag the economy down if nothing is done.
Hopefully the messages are getting through to the new Government on the importance of engineering, manufacturing and innovation to the UK economy. The engineering and manufacturing professions, together with schools and universities, need to work closely with Government departments and the new Ministers, Sajid Javid at BIS, Jo Johnson at Universities and Science at BIS and Nicky Morgan at Education, with a common agenda in order to address these challenges.
What do you feel are the key issues? What expectations do you have of this new Government?