How is the UK government supporting engineering?
Published: 15 Oct 2015
Boosting the UK’s engineering sector has been one of the government’s key strategies for restoring the economy to health ever since the financial crisis in 2008. Engineering’s importance to the economy is obvious. In 2014, the sector contributed 27.1% (£455.6bn) of the UK’s total GDP and employed nearly a fifth of the British workforce. It’s also a sector which can play a major role in reducing the country’s massive trade deficit. So how has the government set about turning its words into action, and how effective has this been?
Ending the skills shortage
Encouraging more young people to study STEM subjects and ultimately enter an engineering profession has been a key part of the British government’s strategy, with a special focus on boosting the number of apprenticeships in engineering firms. There is a gap of around 55,000 people a year between those entering engineering occupations with level 3 Advanced Apprenticeships or level 4 and above and the demand for these qualifications. 28% of employers report difficulties in meeting their need for technicians, and 26% struggle to find experienced staff with STEM expertise. In 2014, almost one in five businesses found it difficult to find suitable graduates for their businesses, and it’s also becoming increasingly difficult for firms to recruit apprentices.
The government’s measures to address this problem include a £30m fund to encourage more women into engineering and address skills shortages in smaller companies. They have also extended the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers scheme with £85m in 2014/15 and 2015/16, funding over 100,000 additional incentive payments for employers to encourage them to take on young apprentices. They’ve also announced that they’ll approve 50 University Technical Colleges and 46 studio schools. The government have an ambitious target for 3 million extra higher apprenticeships to start by 2020, and if this is successful, it will go a long way to meeting the skills shortages reported by many employers.
Investing in engineering firms
The government has also taken steps to support businesses more directly. For example, in February it announced over 5 and a half million pounds worth of funding for 6 projects, to create new specialist skills and careers within the industry. The businesses funded ranged from a small Cheshire employer to Japanese car giant Nissan. The government also made money available for engineering companies with fewer than 250 employees so they could develop innovative company-specific training for employees.
It’s also taken much bigger measures, with its Industrial Strategy, Eight Great Technologies scheme and Regional Growth Fund. The latter has, with £2.6bn of public funding, unlocked nearly £15bn of private investment and delivered over half a million jobs.
The British government has also identified scientific research as a key driver of the British economy and engineering sector, and despite the cuts in other areas the government has protected funding for science this year, while committing itself to increasing investment up to the year 2021. This will help the UK maintain its position as a leading nation in scientific discovery: despite representing under 1% of the world’s population, with only 3.2% of its R&D expenditure and 4.1% of researchers, the UK accounts for 11.6% of citations, 15.9% of the world’s most cited articles and 30 of the top 200 universities globally.
A great time to be an engineer
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