Britain's beleaguered engineering industry has received a much-needed shot in the arm with the launch of a new private sector initiative. The scheme, which was announced at the BETT education and technology fair in London, is designed to combat the declining popularity of engineering among the younger generation.
Organisers of the programme explained that it spawned from research published last year by the Royal Academy of Engineering RAEng, which confirmed that the UK needs to increase by around 50 percent per year the number of science, technology, engineering and maths graduates. If it fails to achieve this ambitious target, the country risks falling short of its potential in these fields, the report noted.
It is hoped that the Elite Engineering Programme will increase the number of talented young people from disadvantaged backgrounds following careers in engineering. It will, therefore, actively encourage young people in state schools to consider engineering as a profession.
Matthew Harrison, the Director of Engineering and Education at RAEng, stressed the importance of revitalising the country's downtrodden engineering sector, which he described as "vital for economic and social wellbeing". He added: "The Elite Engineering Programme will help break down the barriers to becoming an engineer and search in all sectors of society for the best engineering talent to help maintain this country’s pre-eminence."
Another leading figure supporting the ambitious plan is Professor Anthony Purnell, a visiting professor of engineering at Cambridge, who expressed fears that the brightest young people are being put off a career in engineering by the cost of university education. "That would be tragic," he said. "The Elite Engineering Programme was created to stop that happening."
This view has been echoed by Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, who observed that the sector remains central to the future of the economy. "The Elite Engineering Programme is a good example of British businesses working together for the good of disadvantaged young people and the UK and I commend their commitment and leadership here," he commented. "We are working closely with industry and continue to look at various ways to support engineering at all levels, such as engagement in schools, apprenticeships and postgraduate training including Engineering Doctorates."
What more can be done at an academic level to safeguard the future of the industry?