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UK engineering sector ‘generates more than 27% of GDP’

02 February, 2016

The engineering sector generates more than 27% of the UK’s GDP and is 68% more productive than the retail and wholesale sectors, according to a new report published by EngineeringUK – the non-profit organisation that promotes the role of engineers and engineering in the UK.

The report – called Engineering UK 2016: The State of Engineering – analyses the engineering sector’s capacity for growth, and says that turnover in the sector rose by 3.4% last year to reach £1.21 trillion. Employment grew to more than 5.5 million and the industry now supports a total of 14.5 million jobs – 55% of the UK workforce. Also, the number of registered engineering enterprises in the UK rose by 1.8% last year to reach a total of 608,920.

The report argues that the engineering industry is driving productivity, and is having a positive impact on other areas of the UK economy. For every new job in engineering, two more are created outside of the sector, and every £1 GVA (gross value added) generated in engineering, generates £1.45 elsewhere.

However, the shortage of people with engineering knowhow is still causing widespread concern over the sector’s long-term future. The report reckons that 2.6 million people with engineering skills will be needed between 2012 and 2022.

“These shortages are compounded by insufficient numbers of young people, especially girls, choosing a career in engineering,” comments Nick Boles MP, Minister of State for Skills. “I am convinced we will only overcome these challenges if all those with an interest in UK engineering commit to greater collaboration and partnership.”

There are some signs that schoolchildren are now better informed about engineering than they were a few years ago. Between 2011 and 2015, the proportion of 11–14 year old who know what engineers do rose from 11% to 30%, while the proportion that regard engineering as a desirable career climbed from 27% to 43%. And almost three in four parents now believe that a career in engineering is desirable for their children.

EngineeringUK is calling for collaborative action across government, engineering businesses, the education sector and the wider engineering community, and is recommending:

• a doubling of the number of young people studying GCSE physics as part of triple sciences;

• a doubling in the number of Advanced Apprenticeships;

The UK's engineering skills shortage could affect the sector's long-term future, warns the EngineeringUK report

• either a doubling of the number of engineering graduates, or a 50% increase in the number of engineering and technology graduates entering engineering companies;

• careers inspiration for 11–14 year-olds; and

• support for teachers and careers advisors.

“Engineering is a growth industry that has the potential to continue to drive productivity in the UK,” says EngineeringUK’s  chief executive, Paul Jackson. “This is a great opportunity, tempered only by concern about the need to train many more engineers, if we are not to be left behind by countries like South Korea and Germany.”

♦  Responding to the EngineeringUK report, Peter Finegold, head of education and skills at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, says that engineering-driven growth “can only be maintained if we take urgent action to address the UK’s critical engineering skills shortage... Without the development of these skills, the UK will be unable to complete the vital infrastructure projects in the transport and energy sectors the country so desperately needs.

“It is time that the country’s economic priorities are reflected in the education sector and that science and technology subjects are promoted to more than just the obvious candidates,” Finegold adds. “We need to change the way engineering is promoted and make it more attractive to more students by championing the creative aspects of the discipline and the fundamental role engineers play in our society to sectors as diverse as healthcare, food production and conservation.”

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