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Upskill engineers and support apprenticeships, urges new report into engineering skills

A shake-up in UK engineering education is needed to address the current skills gap and shortage of engineers, a new report revealed today. Engineering Skills for the Future - the 2013 Perkins review revisited calls for more support for higher education institutions and apprenticeships, and the upskilling of engineers to manage increasing digitalisation in their industry.

The report marks five years on from Engineering skills: Perkins review; when chemical engineer Professor John Perkins, a Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), was commissioned by the Government to undertake the first review of engineering education from primary to professional level.

His latest instalment revisits the original challenges and recommendations set out in 2013; in order to provide a roadmap for government and the engineering community to action, now and into the future.

There has been increased support for apprenticeships and the introduction of Technician Level (T Levels) in the last five years. Today’s report recommends that the recently introduced apprenticeship levy should give more spending control to organisations; and subject content in T Levels should provide a broad technical education across disciplines, to enable students to have a broad range of routes into an engineering career, or higher education.

IChemE is supportive of this work. It has partnered with the University of Chester to offer the first chemical engineering degree apprenticeship in the UK and is currently working to ensure the degree is IChemE accredited.

According to the report, the UK’s track record of work placements is poor, and organisations have found it challenging to support the 45-day industrial placement required as part of T Levels. With 90% of the engineering businesses having fewer than 10 people, there are concerns the infrastructure is not robust enough to support and nurture professional development through work placements.

Work placements were highlighted as an advantage to employment prospects in IChemE’s 2017 report Social mobility and the chemical engineering profession in the UK. Support for the professional development of young chemical engineers and the provision of industrial work placements are actively encouraged in the requirements to become an IChemE Corporate Partner.

The uncertainty around Britain’s impending exit from the EU has also been highlighted in the report as a potential issue. Almost 560,000 EU Nationals are employed in UK engineering sectors, jobs that look uncertain with no clear immigration policy post-Brexit. The issue is particularly problematic when considering the UK current shortfall of around 37,000 to 59,000, in engineering roles requiring Level 3+ skills.

Since the original Perkins Review, scant progress has been made in addressing the UK’s chronic engineering skills gap too. The report calls on government and the engineering community to upskill engineers and technicians to prepare for a wave of disruptive digital technologies into industry. It is hoped that Brexit presents an opportunity here, providing a stimulus for employers to think more strategically about unlocking the skills potential of their workforce.

Professional Engineering Institutions are cited as having a pivotal role in the upskilling of engineers, by providing a ‘hub’ between industry and individuals to ensure both needs are met. Professional registration was also specified as conferring mobility to engineers, as they highlight key competencies and skills.

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