24 April 2017

Industrial strategy must start in schools, says UK engineering profession

Industrial Strategy
Industrial strategy should begin at primary school says a new report published today. The report, Engineering an economy that works for all, summarises the engineering profession’s response to the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper.

The report draws on evidence and opinion gathered through a series of workshops and a survey of the profession that received nearly 1,300 responses, 16% of which were members of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE). It addresses the 38 questions posed in the Green Paper and has called on the UK government to take more decisive action to equip young people with skills that will be critical to future industries.

The report argues that the government will not be able to deliver on the industrial strategy’s vision of an advanced, globally competitive economy without substantial changes to teaching, qualifications, and curricula. To keep pace with the demands of an advanced 21st century economy, the definition of basic skills needs to be broadened to include digital capabilities. A comprehensive programme of up skilling also needs to be developed in partnership with industry and training providers to ensure the UK workforce at all levels has the skills needed to shape and participate in the industries of tomorrow.

Within the engineering profession there are serious concerns about GCSE Computer Science; the only computing GCSE available to secondary school students. For UK engineering to thrive GCSE qualifications that cover the whole computing curriculum are needed, to prevent the majority of young people leaving compulsory education at age 16 without any formal computing qualification.

The engineering community also welcomes the reform of design and technology in the report. The severe decline in uptake is a real risk to the UK’s global dominance in design. The capacity to deliver much-needed STEM and D&T skills must be improved. The report recommends that teacher shortages in STEM subjects should be addressed as a matter of urgency, through new measures such as an increase in the initial teacher education bursary for design and technology in line with mathematics, physics and computing.

Jon Prichard, Chief Executive at IChemE said:

“Technology will play an increasingly important part of daily life for future generations. The traditional approach of allowing schools to ‘opt out’ of teaching technology-related subjects will be deemed an educational failure by tomorrow’s employers.”

The report also recommends that government significantly increase funding for subject-specific teacher CPD for primary and secondary school teachers to ensure that all teachers undertake this alongside general professional development and training, making annual training compulsory and monitored through Ofsted inspections.

It also identified a real need for dedicated, industry-informed careers advisers, trained to an appropriate level, with up-to-date knowledge of local labour market needs and engineering and technical careers.
Alongside these improvements, much greater, targeted focus is needed on promoting STEM subjects and engineering careers to under-represented groups (including girls, people from BAME communities and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds) to fully unlock the talent potential in the UK.

In Higher Education, the report recommends that universities provide all students and academic staff in appropriate subjects with wider business skills and IP awareness to help companies generate and absorb innovation. Increased mobility between business and academia is also identified as vital.

Dr Rhys Morgan, Director of Engineering and Education at the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

“The engineering community welcomes that the Green Paper considers large parts of the education pipeline, from basic skills through to post-16 options, technician and professional engineering education, re-skilling and up-skilling the workforce and lifelong learning. But to be a coherent and long-term strategy for the UK, the industrial strategy must reach back further into primary and secondary education, ensuring that the right incentives, inspection regimes and funding models for schools are in place.

“The recommendations in Engineering an economy that works for all are critical if we are to develop interest and attainment from a young age in key subjects that will support the nation’s skills needs, and fulfil the government’s vision of an advanced and globally competitive economy.”

My IChemE

IChemE is a registered charity in England & Wales (214379), and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 039661).