Posted: 8 December 2014
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Endangered species

Engineers in the UK are fast becoming an endangered species with a worrying shortfall looming on the horizon. Addressing this gap in our economy must be a top priority, according to Tony Moloney, National Grid UK’s Manager, Education and Skills.

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Endangered species

Endangered species

National Grid is sponsoring 20 schools, four of them university technical colleges, and sending in engineers and volunteers to help teachers and identify potential engineers.

"When young people choose to enter engineering via a direct route into an organisation, through a work-based programme or after college or university, they deserve to be congratulated."

Tony Moloney, National Grid Head of Education & Skills.


By 2020 the UK will need 1.8 million new engineers. The UK is set to deliver only 30 to 40 per cent of that number.

Source: Engineering UK: the state of engineering 2013

The future prosperity of the United Kingdom depends on our ability to compete in a global marketplace, and particularly in the field of new technology.

Engineers are the key to that future and we need to ensure we have enough of them. That means targeting schools in particular to open children’s eyes to the potential that an engineering career gives them.

Tony Moloney

Tony Moloney, National Grid Head of Education & Skills.

At National Grid, we want to join with others to galvanise efforts to identify and recruit young people. Our approach is two-fold: to build a pipeline of opportunities for apprentices and graduates and to put in place a range of programmes that will help young people think positively about engineering as their chosen career.

At the heart of this approach is how we promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – known in the industry as STEM. As subjects, they’ve fallen out of favour over recent years so we aim to reverse this trend and show young people that they are hugely exciting and practical areas if delivered in the right way.

Education, with STEM at its centre, is the starting point, and we’re engaging with our Government at every level to get the education system to deliver what the UK needs.

As an extension of that process, we’re actively targeting schools that will produce tomorrow’s engineers as part of a broader process to promote the possibility of engineering to younger, primary age children, at an age when their minds are most receptive.

And we need to do it with materials and resources that actively engage those youngsters. One prime example would be the demolition of the Rickmansworth gas holder, a project that allowed us to engage children in a practical project that they could actually witness happening.

Qualifications reform

As a country, our qualifications also need to be fit for purpose and there is a pressing case for reform. GCSEs in particular are the subject of an overhaul and there is a good case for adopting a baccalaureate style approach similar to some European countries.  A recent development for A levels is the reform of how practical activities will be assessed.  A study group, including National Grid and led by Lord Lucas and OFQUAL, has been asked to make some recommendations about how best to engage industry in the assessment of some of the practical elements.

The Perkins review has already identified some of these issues. Led by Prof John Perkins, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, it backs the view that substantially increasing the supply of engineers entering the labour market would benefit the UK economy.

It says this would help the economy to be more flexible and resilient, and enable more people to take up new opportunities that technological change presents.

The numbers are staggering. By 2020 – only six years away – there is an identified need for 1.8 million new engineers, almost half of them at graduate level. Yet the UK is on course to deliver only 30 to 40 per cent of that number at a time when advanced manufacturing is so vital.

That’s why National Grid runs one of the UK’s best work experience programmes for young people. We’re also sponsoring 20 schools, four of them university technical colleges, and sending in engineers and volunteers to help teachers and identify potential engineers.

In addition, National Grid is the sponsor of the national VEX Robotics Competition – a less destructive and more practical version of the television show Robot Wars. The competition challenges teams of students to design and build a robot and play against other teams from around the world in a game-based engineering challenge. It makes a practical link between classroom STEM concepts and combines them with other, softer skills such as teamwork, leadership and communications.

There are many more such examples through our involvement with:

  • Energy and Efficiency Industrial Partnership, a £115 million change programme to deliver 11,000 apprenticeships and traineeships
  • The Get Skilled initiative for 14 and 15-year-olds youngsters who would otherwise be  in danger of falling through the employment net
  • TeenTech and Imagineering scheme aimed at providing highly practical classes
  • Joining with a host of others to launch a dedicated floor at the Science Museum in London on engineering, aimed specifically at young people and called Engineer Your Future.

In addition, the recruitment of 150 educational ambassadors from National Grid will help spread the message of engineering as a career choice.

When enough of these young people – and we need to encourage girls every bit as much as boys – choose to enter engineering via a direct route into an organisation, through a work-based programme or after college or university, then we will know that our skills challenge is being met.

Read more:

Recruitment needs to focus on employability skills if the UK is to continue to thrive, says Steve Holliday, Chief Executive Officer. Click here to read more.

An extract from Steve Holliday’s speech made during the launch of the Careers Lab report at the Institute of Directors, June 2014. Click here to read more.

  • Gary Haley

    As a Gas Operations Engineer (I use the Term Engineer loosely as not sure we are actual Engineers) heading towards the end of my career with National Grid and starting as an Apprentice Governer Fitter, I am really pleased to see these types of initiatives finally being recognised and good to see a slow trickle of potential Engineers coming in to National Grid.
    My main concern are the Apprentices that move into Supervisory and Engineering Roles so quickly after completing their Apprenticships. I have nothing against anyone wanting to improve themselves and “move up” the ladder and into Engineeing and Management.
    These are the people that should be learning the nuts and bolts of the Job at Technician Level and passing down their knowledge to the next generation, however, there seems to be a culture of wanting to move on as soon as the first opportunity arises. This creates a never ending flow of Apprentices, Supervisors, Engineers and Managers but not long term, hands on Technicians.
    I recently asked a national group of Apprentices that started 10 years ago and not one was now at Technician level?
    So are we looking at Apprentices to become Technicians or Lower Management???

  • Tony Moloney

    Gary – you make a really good point about progression of apprentices. Progression should and is, based on ability and competence and many aspire to senior roles in engineering. Technicians are a critical skill set for engineering and the first formal professional step for an individual at ‘Eng Tech’.

    We need both engineering managers and technicians / craftspersons and we should encourage both pathways. National Grid does encourage new apprentices and engineering trainees to register and work towards Eng Tech registration with IGEM / IET etc…

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