Engineering UK Written evidence (EDU0092)

 

Who we are

EngineeringUK is a not-for-profit organisation which works in partnership with the engineering community to inspire tomorrow’s engineers. Our mission is to enable more young people from all backgrounds to be informed, inspired and progress into engineering and technology. We aim to do this via programmes designed to excite young people about the variety of opportunities presented by a career in modern engineering and tech. EngineeringUK works with hundreds of organisations to grow the collective impact of their activity to help young people understand engineering, tech and technician careers, how to get into them, and to increase young people’s motivation and ability  to access the education and training opportunities on the way.

We also undertake research and work with partners to influence government thinking in relation to the educational pathways into engineering and technology, bringing understanding of the systems, structures and funding that need to be in place.

 

What we want to see

Engineering and technology are vital to the UK’s economy, and to developing the critical infrastructure required to drive innovation, improve sustainability and meet net zero targets. However, these areas are suffering critical skills shortages that limit productivity, and in some cases, lead industry to locate outside of the UK. EngineeringUK wants to see more young people from all backgrounds being inspired into engineering careers via the 11 – 16 curriculum and enabled to take up engineering pathways upon leaving secondary school.

 

To achieve this EngineeringUK wants to see government develop a STEM Education Strategy that covers:

Outlined in the response below is some more detail of how some of these overarching recommendations should be addressed.

 

The effectiveness of the 11-16 curriculum in equipping young people with the skills they need to progress into post-16 education and employment in a future digital and green economy

From net zero to home building, sustainable food to health technology - the UK simply does not have the number or diversity of young people it needs coming through the education and skills pathways into engineering and manufacturing careers. This has serious implications for the everyday economy and for businesses across the country. A recent review by EngineeringUK of the UK’s Net Zero workforce needs highlights this growing demand for engineering skills. For example, across the energy sector we understand that there is a need to fill 400,000 roles by 2050, 260,000 of which will be new roles, many of which in engineering[2]. In the buildings sector, retrofitting is predicted to require the training of 45,000 technicians each year at its peak in 5 to 10 years’ time (30,000 each year in fabric improvement and 15,000 each year in heat pump installation)[3]. For some industries, this also coincides with expected disruptions - for example, in the engineering construction, an ageing workforce means the sector expects to lose 20,000 employees per year over the next 6 years[4]. Other sectors face steep re-skilling and recruitment forecasts due, in large part, to the UK decarbonisation target. 

This growing demand for engineering and technology skills is further evident in research commissioned by EngineeringUK (to be published in the coming months). As of 2021, there are approximately 6.1 million jobs within the engineering footprint occupations representing approximately 19% of all jobs in the UK. From October 2021 to September 2022 there were over 3.65 million unique job postings recorded in the UK relating to engineering occupations, representing just over 25% of all job postings. The fact that engineering occupations account for 19% of current jobs but for 25% of all job postings suggests that the current skills shortage in engineering is greater than in other areas, or that employers are hiring for future growth, or a combination of the two. Indeed, Engineering was projected to grow at a faster rate than the national average of all occupations[5].

Technological changes are contributing to the reshaping of the UK’s labour market. To stay abreast of these changes and unlock new opportunities, it is essential that current and prospective workers understand what these trends mean for them. It is also critical that these changes are understood by policymakers: from those developing qualifications and curricula to the people in charge of assessing the future workforce needs and delivering careers advice.

A key purpose of education must be to ensure that the country can meet its future workforce needs. Despite the skills needs described above, engineering has little visibility in the 11-16 curriculum. The Engineering GCSE has very low numbers with a 33% decline in uptake in 2022 compared to 2019[6]. The subject with the next strongest relationship with engineering is design and technology (D&T), which has had substantive uptake, but, worryingly GCSE student numbers have also declined, In 2022 there were 78,000 GCSE entrants, 71% less than in 2010[7]. This decline may result from the need for physical resources - a technology studio requires a lot of space and a lot of expensive equipment. A key performance measure, the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), does not include D&T, and free schools and Academy’s that don’t need to follow the national curriculum and are less likely to offer D&T. There are also significant D&T teacher shortages.

The science curriculum makes only passing reference to engineering, despite the fact that many students will progress from the sciences, particularly physics, into engineering. Also there has been a decline in practical work within science lessons between 2016 and 2019, coinciding with the removal of its teacher assessment as part of GCSEs. This 2019 research by Wellcome also found that practical work was considered the most motivating aspect of science lessons at school, but it became less common as students progressed through school. In year 7, 63% of students reported doing hands-on practical learning at least once a fortnight, but this proportion fell steeply by school year, and only 33% reported similar frequency of practical learning in year 11[8]. We are concerned that the documented issues with practical science in 2019 will have been exacerbated by the lack of practical experience during the remote teaching of the pandemic. Furthermore, computer science is a precursor to engineering careers, and digital skills will only become more critical to engineering careers in the future. We want to see young people equipped with the digital skills they need to become the software engineers of tomorrow.

A greater focus on traditionally ‘academic’ subjects and less practical experience within them could be one of the drivers of the decline in uptake of engineering apprenticeships – students are given little understanding of what more hands-on, contextualised learning looks like.

 

Careers education, progression and the curriculum

It is not enough to create educational and training pathways into STEM careers, young people need to know about them. Our research has found that young people who know a lot about engineering are far more likely to consider it as a possible job - 82% of young people aged 11 to 19 who said they knew ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a lot’ about engineering would consider a career in the sector (compared to just 40% of 11 to 19 year olds who reported not knowing a lot about engineering)[9].

This highlights the importance of improving engineering careers provision among young people aged 11-16. Indeed, Gatsby Careers benchmark 4 asks schools to link careers learning to the curriculum, but it may be hard for schools to see the need to provide information on engineering careers, or where to link them to, given the low visibility engineering has in the curriculum as discussed in the section above.

We want government to come forward with a refreshed careers strategy and embed careers content into the STEM curriculum. We recommend an investment of around £30 million annually to ensure that schools are better resourced to support all young people with their careers choices, £3.5 million annually to pay for STEM leaders in careers hubs, and £10 million annually for a ‘STEM Diversity Fund’. This additional funding would enable schools and colleges to address the financial barriers hindering greater participation by students in STEM careers activities and support efforts to address some of the additional challenges by schools with more young people from groups who are under-represented in the STEM workforce.

 

11-16 education and workforce diversity

While females have low uptake of some 11-16 subjects that lead into engineering, boys have low uptake in other important subject areas, such as languages. It would be interesting for the Committee to consider how 11-6 curriculum content and careers contextualisation of different subjects affects their uptake across different demographic groups.

It is no secret that the engineering sector has diversity issues and there are many reasons why women, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, different ethnic backgrounds and disabled people are under-represented in the sector. Only 16.5% of the engineering workforce are women compared with 48% of the overall workforce[10]. Although results vary by individual occupation and sector, in general we found that women were more likely to be in related – rather than core – engineering roles and working in industries outside of what is traditionally deemed to be ‘engineering’[11]. This is mirrored in education, only 18% of first year under graduates in engineering and technology are woman, compared to 57% across all subject areas[12]. Furthermore, only 8% of young women that study maths and physics at A-Level progress to study engineering and technology at university compared to 23% of all young men. Based on current progression rates, there would need to be an increase of 115,000 young women studying maths and or physics at A-Level to achieve gender parity in higher education engineering and technology courses[13].

Negative perceptions and gendered stereotypes of who can be an engineer are still very much in circulation and influence whether young people see engineering as being for them. Research by STEMettes and the British Science Foundation found that a third of 14-19 year olds in the UK hadn’t been, or couldn’t recall being, taught about a female scientist in the prior two years[14]. Failure to celebrate the STEM achievements of underrepresented groups will not help shift negative attitudes towards engineering. Failing to help young people to see themselves in STEM roles can act as a barrier to diversity, inclusion, and social mobility within the sector.

 

The availability and attractiveness of technical and vocational options in the 11-16 phase

We are concerned about how accessible and desirable technical routes in the engineering and technology sector are to young people and what needs to be done to improve this. There are currently three vocational routes available to 11-16 year olds, BTEC Awards, BTEC Firsts and Cambridge nationals. However, it is not yet known the impact that devaluing some post-16 BTECs will have on take-up numbers at these level one and two courses.

11-16 education has a role to play in opening-up post-16 technical and vocational pathways to young people. If we are to deliver the workforce required to meet future job projections, then government must look to vocational pathways into engineering. We have observed that there is a lower proportion of workers in the youngest age group (16 to 24 years) in engineering (8.1%) compared to non-engineering roles (11.4%) and that this proportion has declined since 2010 (from 8.6% to 8.1%)[15]. Early careers intervention at secondary school to encourage 16 year olds to take technical routes into the sector must be made to close this gap.

EngineeringUK are currently working with Lord Willetts and Lord Knight to better understand factors impacting the uptake of apprenticeships and would be happy to provide the committee with further insights once the report is available. We are also interested to see how changes to careers provision included in the Skills and Post-16 Education Act will be implemented, and we encourage the committee to support the broadening and enrichment of careers experiences for young people.

Research by the Careers and Enterprise Group has emphasised that the earlier young people are introduced to careers information the more beneficial this will be to their understanding of the options available to them. In their report they specifically target the amplification of apprenticeships and technical routes as a priority[16]. We have reports into issues facing T Levels[17] and Apprenticeships[18] available on our website linked in the footnotes.

 

How the 11-16 system could be adapted to improve the attractiveness of the teaching profession, and the recruitment, training, and retention of teachers 

Recent research has found that there are ongoing issues with recruiting and retaining STEM teachers, with government targets for training science teachers being regularly missed[19]. This is a long-standing problem and means that STEM subjects are regularly being taught by non-specialist teachers. Despite many targeted interventions to address this issue, including the recently established ‘engineers into teaching programme’, the undersupply of STEM specialist teachers remains. In 2021/22, for example, only 22% of the target for physics teachers was met and 23% of the target for design and technology teachers, 400 schools have no physics teacher, many have just one[20].  We have welcomed the ‘engineers into teaching programme’ and suggest that in the longer term such programmes could and should be rolled out to maths, computer science and design and technology.  We believe that such measures are a step in the right direction, as are the £3,000 additional tax-free payments to physics teachers in disadvantaged schools. However, progress is slow and is yet to address what has become a very acute issue.

STEM subject specific CPD raises and teaching quality and particularly supports teachers who are not teaching their specialist subject, often the case for teachers of STEM subjects. We recommend providing ringfenced funding for STEM subject specific CPD. Happily, such CPD also improves teacher retention – analyses by Education Datalab found that 1 in 12 teachers who did not participate in CPD left teaching in the following year compared with 1 in 30 for those who did; when other factors (such as age and gender) were taken into account, CPD increased the odds of remaining in teaching by 160%[21].

Additional measures to improve STEM teacher recruitment and retention could include the following.

 

9 May 2023

8

 


[1] Solving the STEM shortage: CPD improves science teacher retention (wellcome.org)

[2] https://www.engineeringuk.com/media/318694/net-zero-workforce_engineeringuk_2022-11-29-no-idric.pdf

[3] https://www.engineeringuk.com/media/318694/net-zero-workforce_engineeringuk_2022-11-29-no-idric.pdf

[4] https://www.engineeringuk.com/media/318694/net-zero-workforce_engineeringuk_2022-11-29-no-idric.pdf

[5] upcoming report on ‘Engineering skills needs - now and into the future’

[6] gcse-results-2022.pdf (engineeringuk.com)

[7] Copy of Reimagining D&T Final Report (designtechnology.org.uk)

[8] https://wellcome.org/sites/default/files/science-education-tracker-2019.pdf

[9] our-careers-our-future-briefing.pdf (engineeringuk.com)

[10] https://www.engineeringuk.com/research-policy/diversity-in-engineering/women-in-engineering/

[11] https://www.engineeringuk.com/research-policy/diversity-in-engineering/women-in-engineering/

[12] https://www.engineeringuk.com/media/318816/a-levels-to-engineering_report_engineeringuk_feb23fv.pdf

[13] https://www.engineeringuk.com/media/318816/a-levels-to-engineering_report_engineeringuk_feb23fv.pdf

[14] FE News | Better gender representation in UK STEM curriculum urged, as 1 in 3 young people don’t remember being taught about a woman scientist

[15] https://www.engineeringuk.com/media/318827/fit_for_the_future_knight_and_willetts_apprenticeship_inquiry_euk_call_for_evidence.pdf

[16] https://www.careersandenterprise.co.uk/media/y1vfabyd/cec-ready-for-the-future-2022.pdf

[17] https://www.engineeringuk.com/research-policy/educational-pathways-into-engineering/unlocking-talent-ensuring-t-levels-deliver-the-workforce-of-the-future/

[18] https://www.engineeringuk.com/research-policy/educational-pathways-into-engineering/further-education-and-apprenticeship-pathways-into-engineering/

[19] https://www.gatsby.org.uk/uploads/education/reports/pdf/key-indicators-2020.pdf

[20] chapter2_secondary-education-and-engineering_summary.pdf (engineeringuk.com)

[21] Solving the STEM shortage: CPD improves science teacher retention (wellcome.org)

[22] ASCENTS 121 support for science | EEF (educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk)