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Charles Levy
Senior Economist
Charles  Levy

We'll need more engineers

Authors: Charles Levy Charles Levy

01 October 2012

Today ( Monday 1 October) the Royal Academy of Engineering launched a new report highlighting evidence that the demand for engineers exceeds supply. Supported by Big Innovation Centre research and analysis, they present a compelling evidence base:

• It seems that the economy needs more and more graduate engineers both for engineering and non-engineering jobs – it’s interesting to note that the financial sector seems to be looking for exactly the same qualities in its graduates as those in manufacturing and engineering disciplines.

• Those in non-graduate Science, Engineering and Technology occupations seem to be in short supply. These occupations also attract wage premiums;

• Forecasts of future demand consistently flag the importance of these technical skills.

The interesting question here is why? If trained engineers are paid more, and we have a demand led skills system, why don’t more people train as engineers? The effect should perhaps be clearest in higher education where we have the most transparent markets. Yet, while the numbers graduating in any subject increased by 66% between 2000 and 2011, numbers in engineering and technology only increased by 31%. There isn’t a simple answer here, but it seems that the biggest obstacle is one of perceptions and decision points – at the points when students could make the decision that would send them towards a technical path, they either aren’t aware of, or aren’t as interested in these possibilities as we might expect them to be.

However, policy makers need to tread carefully here. In the past, initiatives to increase the number of graduates in particular disciplines have been poorly targeted. Looking at the previous government’s policy to directly boost the number of Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine (STEM) graduates, we concluded that the initiative was not having a positive effect, because it was not tacking issues relating to the qualities of these graduates. The way to avoid this will be for policy makers, employers and teaching institutions to start to offer a clear and simple narrative about the value of these skills. The Royal Academy of Engineering’s initiative moves us in exactly this direction.

Look at our interactive data tool presenting the evidence we submitted.