Director of engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), Dr Colin Brown, has responded to the Government’s launch of an industrial strategy.
He said: “The Government’s pledge to focus on developing technical skills is an encouraging step. The UK urgently needs to raise its game in the development of a highly-skilled, technically-trained workforce to underpin our future economy, particularly in light of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.”
He continued: “There needs to be greater investment in a range of broad technical skills to develop an agile and resilient workforce rather than simply job-specific training. This is not about businesses absolving themselves of any responsibility for training staff, but about providing more people with the fundamental skills that will boost their career prospects and help business, and the UK economy more widely, prosper. The right industrial strategy has the potential to increase opportunities for fulfilling skilled jobs for more people from all backgrounds, leading to a fairer and more stable society.”
“Other key areas that the Government has pledged to support include delivering affordable clean energy, upgrading infrastructure and providing a new £4.7billion research and development (R&D) fund. While these pledges are broadly positive, they must be underpinned by a radical overhaul of current policy. For example, Government has scrapped plans for the Carbon Capture and Storage demonstration project, which is the only viable technology that could decarbonise our electricity sector in the medium-term,” he added.
Dr Brown went on to say: “The UK has a great history of innovation, but UK companies have often struggled to bridge the investment barrier of commercialisation between development and bringing a product to market. The new £4.7billion R&D fund must look to help companies overcome this ‘valley of death’ by supporting long term financial security.”
Separately, Prof John Perkins, chair of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Education and Skills Panel, said: “We welcome the Government’s Industrial Strategy, with its 10 pillar-focus on energy, infrastructure, and supporting business growth - including SMEs and emerging markets.
“But the Industrial Strategy will only be successful if it is a sustained, long-term approach bringing together all Government departments – which means we are missing an additional area of focus – education.
He added: “Despite the additional £170m that the industrial strategy proposes to invest in STEM education, there is no specific mention of schools. It’s vital that the education system for our young people is fit for purpose and equips them with the right skills from day one – so the Industrial Strategy must include plans and investment for schools and teachers, as well as colleges and employers. It’s vital to consider the education system as a whole, whether it be a vocational, technical or academic route, with the practical skills for the long and short term.
“There is also an opportunity with the forthcoming Apprenticeship Levy for employers to bring in fresh talent and ensure their staff have the right skills to be agile and flexible in the face of new technologies.
Prof Perkins concluded: “Ultimately, the success of the Industrial Strategy depends on the availability of engineers and technicians to ensure the UK remains globally competitive.”
BSRIA has also welcomed the Industrial Strategy. Its chief executive Julia Evans said: “The Prime Minister has included energy in a bid to align central government infrastructure investment with local growth priorities which is seen as good news by BSRIA, members and industry alike. Her promise to ‘take action’ for British Industry by unveiling a new, more interventionist, industrial strategy is also positive.”
She continued: “It is especially heartening to hear that the Prime Minister also aims to boost STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills, digital skills and numeracy, including extending specialist maths schools, with £170m being invested in creating a new string of Institutes of Technology in England and Wales, taking students from age 16 to 19, also known as ‘builders’ universities’.
“The UK has some of the best universities in the world but students and the ‘workforce of tomorrow’ have had fewer alternatives to learn practical skills. Clearly, engineering, technical and hands-on skills are crucial for our industry to address the ever increasing skills shortage. And build the houses the country needs.”