A-level science results cause concern about future for engineering

IET, Education
Concerned about the number of engineers in the future —IET vice president Will Stewart.

Prof. Will Stewart, vice president of the Institution of Engineering & Technology, has expressed concern that this year’s A-level results show no increase in students studying subjects such as maths, physics and design and technology, which he describes as ‘core subjects for an engineering degree and career’. He adds, ‘If we don’t reverse this trend, thousands of young people are effectively closing the door on an exciting and creative career as engineers.’

The IET view is that the reduction in the number of students studying the crucial engineering gateway subjects (maths, physics and design and technology) highlights the need to think again about how the education system is addressing the engineering skills shortage.

The institution is concerned that the continued failure to persuade more pupils to study these subjects at A-level points to the need for more schools to teach the International Baccalaureate (IB). It follows a broader range of study, including maths and a science subject, thereby reducing the risk of pupils inadvertently making subject choices at 16 that can potentially limit their career options.

Will Stewart says, ‘We are also at risk of stifling economic growth if we do not produce the future engineers we so critically need.

‘One way of doing this would be if more schools were to offer the International Baccalaureate, which incorporates six subjects, including maths and a science, rather than the three subjects students typically opt for at A-level. This would mean that fewer young people would be forced to make choices at 16 that can limit their career options later on.

‘There continues to be huge demand for engineers, so it is important that young people continue their studies into higher education. The country needs more people studying science and engineering subjects at university and taking up apprenticeships.’

And the industrial and commercial energy association, ICOM has advice for those who have received their GCSE results. Director Ross Anderson suggests, ‘Consider an apprenticeship and earn while you learn. Apprenticeships offer a great opportunity to earn and learn instead of incurring large fees and delaying three years before getting a foothold on the starting rung of your chosen career ladder.

‘We need to stop thinking of apprenticeships as the poor relation to university and see it for what it really is — first-class training delivered in a real-world scenario. Apprenticeships deliver on-the-job training and demonstrate the company’s commitment to offering long-term employment.’

Meanwhile, in the Republic of Ireland, Engineers Ireland has expressed concern about the number of engineers in the future. In response to an action plan for housing and homelessness, Engineers Ireland comments, ‘In civil and environmental engineering disciplines, the number of honours third-level graduates next year will be down to less than 10% of the 2014 number, and it is expected that there will be no building-services graduates at all.’

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