The engineering sector contributed £455bn to the UK economy last year, according to Engineering UK’s 2015 Report, but its future growth is hamstrung by a shortage of fresh talent. National Grid’s Chief Executive Steve Holliday explains how his business is switched on to bridging the skills gap.
Inspiring the future
“We’re determined to explode the stereotypes that will stall our sector’s growth potential.”
Steve Holliday, National Grid’s Chief Executive.
If we can meet the annual demand for 250,000 new engineers over the next seven years, there’s the potential for our industry to contribute an extra £27bn every year to the UK economy.
Source: National Grid.
From steam engines to high-pressure gas pipelines and spacecraft, the brightest brains in our industry have used the principles of maths and science to develop structures and machines that have changed the world. Engineers have shaped our past – and will design a future we can only begin to imagine.
As Chief Executive of National Grid, it won’t surprise you that I’m so passionate about the impact of engineering. Not only is it one of the most important and rewarding careers around, it’s also a heavyweight contributor to the UK economy. Last year, the sector contributed roughly £455.6bn of the UK’s £1,683bn GDP – that’s a staggering 27.1%.
The figures are laid out in the Engineering UK Report 2015, which provides a revealing overview of the successes and challenges in our sector. Engineering UK is a not-for-profit organisation, which works in partnership with the engineering community to promote the vital role of engineers and engineering to society.
From this year’s report two things are clear. Firstly, Britain is great at engineering. Our engineers make an enormous contribution to the UK economy and can play a leading role in developing solutions to serious global challenges, such as climate change and the clean and affordable supply of energy.
There is a huge opportunity for engineering here in the UK. If we can meet the annual demand for 250,000 new engineers over the next seven years, there’s the potential for our industry to contribute an extra £27bn every year to the UK economy.
That’s the equivalent cost of building 1,800 secondary schools or 110 new hospitals. Which is clearly something worth striving for.
The second serious point, however, is that the UK at all levels of education doesn’t have either the current capacity or the rate of growth needed to meet the forecast demand for skilled engineers by 2020.
Part of the reason for this is that the industry has an image problem. It’s improving, according to Engineering UK, and seems to be slowly shedding its image as a grubby boys’ club, but there’s still a long way to go. And we’re working hard to explode those stereotypes.
There’s a compelling need to attract more girls into the sector. Engineering UK’s report found that while 12% of parents stated they would like their son to become an engineer, only 2% said the same about their daughter. By failing to inspire girls, we’re cutting ourselves off from an enormous pool of potential talent.
Fulfilling the huge potential of our thriving sector depends on opening the eyes of youngsters to the exciting possibilities of an engineering career and addressing our schools’ approach to STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), which have fallen out of favour, yet form the core of everything we do as engineers.
It’s something that’s high on the agenda at National Grid and we’re already working hard to address these issues. Our approach is two-fold: to build new opportunities for apprentices and graduates and to put in place a range of programmes that inspire school-age children to think positively about engineering.
Education, with STEM at its centre, is the starting point, and we’re engaging with the Government at every level to get the education system to deliver what the UK needs.
It’s our schools that will produce tomorrow’s engineers, so we’re working closely with them to get the UK’s youngsters ready for work. We want future recruits to have the right layers of skills and experience and be ready to question, create and deliver solutions. Some of our programmes include:
- School Power
This is our scheme for primary-age children, which offers free learning resources to teachers to run fun but academically sound science and innovation demonstrations.
This provides volunteering opportunities for our employees to introduce 8-16 year olds to STEM and the wider world of engineering, science and technology.
- Big Bang
National Grid employees help inspire young people to consider a career in engineering at the annual Big Bang Fair, which was attended by 90,000 visitors last year. Young people learn first hand about the future of energy and the importance of STEM subjects in solving future challenges.
- Work experience
We run one of the UK’s best work-experience programmes for young people. We also sponsor 20 schools, four of them university technical colleges, and send in engineers and volunteers to help teachers and identify potential engineers.
Another key aspect of our approach is collaboration. We know that by joining up and working together our industry can better understand the challenges facing society, combining ideas to ignite and energise young minds. We’re doing this by:
- Energy and Utilities Industrial Partnership (EEIP)
I’m the chair of this ambitious partnership, which aims to help create up to 70,000 new learning opportunities, including apprenticeships and traineeships, in the energy and utilities sector.
- Careers Lab
An initiative we developed that has now been taken up by charity Business in the Community. It links working professionals with schools to bring the world of work to life for secondary school children as they decide on their future direction.
- Science Museum
The Engineer Your Future exhibition at London’s Science Museum puts young people’s problem-solving skills to the test by exploring engineering challenges through large-scale, high-quality interactive games and digital experiences. We led the development of the exhibition from its inception and hope that up to three million visitors each year – mainly of school age – will be inspired.
We’re determined to explode the stereotypes that will stall our sector’s growth potential. More simply, as a responsible business, we want to be part of creating a better society by actively supporting pro-grammes that change negative perceptions of our young people. Some programmes we’re running include:
Our EmployAbility, Let’s Work Together scheme helps put students with learning disabilities on the path to employment and a productive life.
- Get Skilled
An initiative for 14 and 15-year-olds who would otherwise be in danger of falling through the employment net.
We also believe in the strength of skills through service. By dedicating our time and effort to things that matter to us and those around us, we can build vital skills and support our communities Our goal is to double the number of young people taking part in social action to more than 50% by 2020 and here are some ways we’re putting this into practice:
- City Year
We sponsor City Year UK, which recruits 18-to-25-year-olds for 11 months of full-time volunteering as role models, mentors and tutors in schools in deprived areas. Participants see huge personal devel-opment while transforming the lives of the children they serve.
- #iwill [Step Up to Serve]
We support national campaign Step Up To Serve, which encourages young people to be more actively involved in their local communities.
- Community Action Hub
Volunteering is now formally linked to our employees’ personal development plans. An interactive online Community Action and Skills Hub helps them to select a volunteering activity that will best help them achieve their own personal development goals.
I’m excited by the opportunities that lie ahead for engineering and we’re committed to taking a proactive approach to educating and inspiring the next generation of talent.
This year’s general election campaign gives us a further opportunity to get our voices heard. We want the next Government to listen to our ideas around driving better outcomes for schoolchildren through improved career advice and ambitious reform of STEM skills development.
In addition, we believe Government and industry should set a target to more than double the number of girls studying engineering at degree level to 30 per cent.
Engineering pioneer Theodore von Karman once said: “Scientists study the world as it is; engineers create the world that has never been.”
There’s the magic of engineering in one powerful sentence.
Today’s schoolchildren can shape a dynamic and exciting future for our society – and we’re determined to give them the skills and confidence to do it.
Wednesday 17 December marked the official opening of the three-year interactive Engineer Your Future exhibition at the Science Museum in London. Tony Moloney, National Grid’s Head of Education & Skills, talks about how this can help tackle the acute shortage of young people opting for engineering as a career path.