Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very touched by what Steve Holliday said. I think he is 'over-egging the pudding' a little bit. I can only do a few things around the bazaars but I did a tiny bit of research before I came here today.
“...I am sure that a new kind of industrial era will be with us by the turn of the century, but it will only come if we work to create it by realizing that we need to draw now on all the sophisticated skill, talent and engineering genius with which this country is surely blessed.”
“...There is still a strong residual feeling that engineers are people who wear overalls, probably wielding spanners and generally do dirty, undignified jobs.”
“...Until engineers are afforded the same respect and given the same status as they are in Germany, France, Japan and the United States, we will be fighting an appalling uphill struggle and we will be left floundering further and further behind.”
Believe it or not, these are quotes from a speech I made in 1978 at the National Conference of the Industrial Society at the Institute of Electrical Engineers. And then, “Let’s build a better picture of where this country’s priorities lie, where the greatest number of job vacancies exist in the industrial sector and just how vital it is that the greatest encouragement should be given to those who possess ingenuity, inventiveness and imagination so that they are able to use their talent to the full to help restore this nation to the sort of powerful economic position that befits our ability.
That was in 1979 to the National Association of Headteachers.
“...I think it would be true to say that one of the major causes contributing to the decline of Britain’s industrial performance is that due to the attitude prevailing in society which does not accord to the manufacturing industry the importance and status it deserves as the basis on which the nation’s prosperity depends. Unless we are prepared to acknowledge and support the efforts of those who create wealth through making things, then we cannot hope to sustain, let alone improve, our present standards of living.”
“...It is hardly surprising that as a nation, we fail to value our engineers when our educational system still attaches greater importance to the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake rather than applying that knowledge for a useful purpose...”
That was again in 1979 at the Young Engineer for Britain Awards, followed by at the Council for National Academic Awards Conference on Engineering Courses. Sorry about this but I can't resist it!
“The seed must be sown first of all in the primary schools and this is where attitudes are so crucial the attitudes of teachers and careers officers, for instance. Whether we like it or not, schools have a major role to play in promoting engineering as a worthwhile career.”
And wait for it...
“...One way of increasing the proportion of sixth-formers entering engineering is, of course, to encourage more girls to do so.”
Perhaps now, Ladies and Gentlemen, you may appreciate my permanent sense of “déjà vu!” when to comes to all this. Nothing seems to have changed in nearly forty years, except that now everyone is running around like headless chickens trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again! I even went as far as to inaugurate a prize linked to B.B.C. Television’s Tomorrow’s World programme, which some of you may remember, called The Prince of Wales Award for Innovation and Production, which ran from 1981 to 1997 the aim being to raise the status and awareness of British inventors and engineers. I might not have bothered really because we still have the same problems.
This country really does have the most enviable history of enterprise in the fields of engineering, science, technology and manufacturing. But the truth, as you will know far better than me, Ladies and Gentlemen, is that we face an acute shortage of engineers, which we have already heard about. There are engineering skills shortages at both graduate and technician level, and we are simply not doing enough to bridge that gap. The skills crisis has reached critical levels, particularly in the fields of mechanical engineers, machine setters and engineering professionals, which are among the most difficult posts to recruit. I know statistics can be boring but they are quite sobering, just for a moment:
• More than thirty per cent of manufacturing businesses will be short of key skills (graduates and technicians) within three years.
• Forty-two per cent of employers report difficulties recruiting engineering and technology skills.
• The Royal Academy of Engineering says we need more than 800,000 professional engineers and technicians by 2020.
At the same time:
• Skills are being lost through an ageing workforce.
• Seventy-three per cent of fifteen to twenty-four year olds know little or nothing about technician occupations.
And while all of this is going on, there are still high levels of youth unemployment, as I know only too well through the work of my Prince’s Trust. Many of these young people could, with the right opportunity and training, fill some of the gaps.
The scale of the challenge is also the scale of the opportunity. For instance, manufacturing, far from being a thing of the past as you might think from some portrayals, is actually experiencing a resurgence in the United Kingdom, employing ten per cent of the workforce (2.7 million people), and accounting for almost fifty per cent of all exports.
Advanced manufacturing is a major success, particularly in the automotive and aerospace sectors. In aerospace, the U.K. is number one in Europe and second globally only to the United States, with seventy-five per cent of our output exported. All this supports a huge supply chain representing some three thousand companies. Then there are the Life sciences, where four hundred companies employ more than seventy thousand people. That is not to mention the thousands of mid-sized manufacturers and S.M.E.’s, where the majority of jobs exist, and where most new ones are likely to be created. Added to that, pay in the sector is now attractive, and is close to what can be expected in medicine.
So the opportunities are there. But we desperately need the skills. We need to continue efforts to alter the perceptions about engineering and manufacturing in homes, schools and the Media and to promote the vocational, technical routes alongside the graduate opportunities. Which is why, two years ago, I launched a series of workshops, together with the Royal Academy of Engineering and some of my organizations, just to try to bring teachers together with engineering firms and indeed with the armed forces who are also experiencing the spectre of skills shortages, to raise awareness of the importance of technical, vocational education.
For, in particular, we need to give young people access to careers information and opportunities to gain real hands-on experience of industry and engineering. That’s why I am so very heartened to see Apprentices represented here today. In this respect, I would like to thank Steve Holliday of National Grid and all the other companies for their energetic support. Again, the statistics are clear some sixty-six per cent of those companies offering apprenticeships report a clear link to increased productivity. There are some other good initiatives that I would like to see expanded, including Tomorrow’s Engineers and the S.T.E.M. Ambassador Network and of course, Industrial Cadets.
It is a fact that seventy-four per cent of employers state that they value highly experience of the workplace. Yet only one in four offer structured work experience or engagement.
Industrial Cadets, Ladies and Gentlemen, which was the result of a conversation I had four years ago now I think, with the then Managing Director of Tata Steel in Middlesbrough, now provides a new standard for workplace experiences a structured framework enabling eleven to nineteen year olds to participate in engineering and manufacturing industry-based activities, and to develop employability skills and careers awareness in a practical and hands-on way.
Many major companies are already engaged and some two thousand young people have graduated as Industrial Cadets. It is really is wonderful to see a few of them here today...
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, there really has never been a better time to get into engineering and technology, and there have never been more opportunities. I know there are endless different initiatives trying to tackle the key S.T.E.M. issues and the skills shortages but, if I may say so, the secret to all this I suspect is coordination, coordination and coordination between all of them. All of you here can, I am sure, make this happen and I will look forward to hearing of the future success of all the work that is being done to provide industry with the talent it requires and to provide young people with the fulfilling careers they need at the end of the day.
Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen,