‘Ambitious’ plan seeks to address worrying decline in engineering-related apprenticeships

Article by Amanda Jasi

LORD KNIGHT and Lord Willetts, supported by EngineeringUK, have launched an “ambitious” five-point plan for growing and sustaining apprenticeships for young people in engineering and technology. It follows the Fit for the Future inquiry earlier this year which sought to uncover the reasons behind a decline in engineering-related apprenticeships.

The report laying out the findings notes that engineering-related apprenticeship starts have fallen by 9% since 2014/15, and for engineering and manufacturing technologies the decrease is even more dramatic, down 34%. It warns that without an increase in the number and diversity of engineers and technicians, the UK will lack the skills it needs it to address major challenges, from energy security to sustainable farming.

To help address new and emerging skills gaps, the report recommends five overarching policy actions to government, along with employers and providers, aimed at overcoming barriers and concerns identified by the inquiry:

  • rebalance education – ensure that the secondary school system is fit for the future and there is a genuine parity of esteem between technical and academic pathways
  • support young people – provide better support for young people throughout their apprenticeship journey and take decisive action to break down barriers
  • refocus funding – ensure long-term funding and greater equity between vocational and academic routes
  • enable businesses – enable more small- and medium-sized enterprises to play an active role in apprenticeships. Work together with employers as well as providers to ensure that engineering and technology apprenticeship standards are given the strategic importance they merit and meet the skills needs of the sector
  • employers taking action – encourage employers to play their part in growing and sustaining apprenticeships for the future and to help widen opportunities for young people

Specific recommendations include calling on engineering and technology employers to rise to the challenge of skilling up the next generation of engineers and technicians and offering more apprenticeships to young people, including for those that don’t meet current minimum requirements in maths and English.

To enable businesses, the report recommends the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) works with a range of engineering and technology employers to ensure that future apprenticeship standards allow apprentices to gain core transferable engineering skills and knowledge valued by their employers. It advises working with more small- and medium-sized enterprises and engineering consultancy firms, as well as professional engineering institutions.

Funding recommendations include advising government to support degree apprenticeships through the standard higher education fees and loans model, as well as funding apprenticeships for 16- to 19-year-olds through an increase in the Education and Skills Funding Agency budget.

Lord Knight, inquiry co-chair and former UK minister for education and employment, said: “Despite 20 years of reviews and reform, Britain is lagging behind our competitors in developing the skilled workforce we need to engineer a prosperous future. This failure to better link schools and skills wastes the great potential of our young people. I hope this bold and practical set of recommendations will be listened to by policymakers and practitioners and finally fix this problem.”

Lord Willetts, inquiry co-chair and former minister for universities and science, said: “Engineering is key for the British economy. Engineering apprentices and university graduates enjoy some of the higher earnings of any group. This report shows how we can encourage a wider range of young people into engineering and provide them with more opportunities for education and training. We hope our report will be drawn on by all the political parties."

Other recent efforts to help the UK address skills shortages include a report from Cogent Skills and Gemserv, released in July, that sought to provide clarity and direction on the green skills and occupations required to support a net zero transition.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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