March is the month where the focus of the Year of Engineering is routes into the sector. Given that the government has just committed to a year-long review of funding of post-18 education, and that the Careers Strategy has recently been published (following a two year wait), it’s the perfect time to be thinking about how we can promote all of the different ways to get into engineering – all of them important and all of them suited to different groups.
Remember, we need a million new engineers by the middle of the next decade to meet the demands of industry. We should be under no illusions as to the size of this task. But that’s why we have the Year of Engineering. And the good news is that, if we can ensure that the intent of government policy is met with a robust response from industry and the world of education, it really is in our power to do it.
For example, we need some 20,000 graduate level engineers each year, but industry is responding to this need by meeting the challenge head on. Some of the first degree apprenticeships were in engineering disciplines (and I welcome Robert Halfon MP’s recent comments, urging an expansion of these programmes), with institutions like Cambridge University getting on board too. There are also courses on offer at some institutions with flexibility on the traditional Maths and Physics A-Level entry requirements, opening up an engineering degree to a wider range of people than ever before.
Recent reports that some institutions don’t intend to accept the new T-Levels from applicants are concerning. However, we still have a couple of years to get the qualifications right and establish them firmly in the minds of parents and young people as a top-class technical route into higher education (at either a university or an Institute of Technology), an apprenticeship or a job. Given that the bulk of the engineering skills shortage is at technician level, with Gatsby estimating a need for 700,000 technicians over the next decade, we need to get these qualifications right first time – and we then need to ensure that the resources are there to deliver them effectively, and that employer demand matches provider supply across England. I am a member of one of the panels developing the Engineering and Manufacturing T-Level, and I can assure you that employers are working hard to make sure this qualification fits industry’s needs.
For those young people who don’t want to go to college or to university, however, apprenticeships continue to offer a tried-and-tested route to an engineering career. The benefits of an engineering apprenticeship are evident, not just from the statistics showing a career earnings boost but also from what apprentices have to say about their experiences. The recent Industry Apprentice Council annual report shows that 98% of engineering apprentices are happy with their choice, with earning while learning, avoiding student debt and gaining work experience among the reasons. With engineering apprenticeships now available up to and including Master’s level (Level 7), there truly is an apprenticeship route into the sector for all who want one.
If there’s one message I want Engineering Update readers to take away from reading this piece, it’s this. In engineering, employers ultimately want recruits who have the ability to take their knowledge and skills and apply them to new challenges as they arise. The Fourth Industrial Revolution requires engineers who are adaptable and who can shift between tasks – and this is a quality which can be brought out through any of the routes into the sector. So given that, there’s no sense in favouring one route over another – we must make best use of all the talent available, however best people learn. If employers aren’t snobbish, then nor should young people, their parents or their educators be.