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To fill the talent gap more must be done to influence GCSE choices

Posted by: Tom Webb-Skinner 2 Apr 14 - 12:31PM  | Recruitment

Industry leaders and the UK Government are unified in calling for an increase in the number of university engineering graduates to help address the nationwide skills gap, which has been caused in part by the economy’s resurgence. While the exact method of achieving this change is still up for debate, Jonathan Lee Recruitment’s Tom Webb-Skinner argues that the first step should be to address the priorities of secondary education. “There is a general consensus that we need more of our top quality young students to get into engineering, but this sits in stark contrast to the lack of importance placed on the subject in GCSE and A-Level curricula,” says Tom.

“Letting younger pupils see the realities of being at the creative heart of a high-tech world, at an age where they will be making important decisions about their future, will help to attract children with strong scientific and mathematical abilities to the right educational pathway. Instead, some of the brightest young potential talents are left in the false belief that engineering is about hard hats, overalls and repairing fridges and they are instead drawn to medical or legal careers which are often glamorised by popular TV.”

The educational choices made by pupils at the age of 14 have long lasting effects on their future career opportunities, especially where engineering is concerned. The Royal Aeronautical Society advises that physics and maths are the core subjects at both GCSE and A-Level for anyone considering a career in engineering, but also states that other linked topics such as design technology and an engineering diploma will help to strengthen all round understanding. However, subject uptake numbers show that pupils’ subject choices are effectively ruling themselves out of engineering careers. Analysis by EngineeringUK highlights that girls are particularly unlikely to enter an engineering education pathway, with a disproportionately high 92% of female students taking the combined sciences at GCSE level instead of the three sciences separately. These results are exacerbated further down the line; a study by the Department for Education showed that students who study triple science are three times more likely to study physics at A-Level than those who studied core and additional science.

Tom says: “Top class engineering graduates have some of the best employability prospects of any career choice. There are also vital alternatives to university degrees with apprenticeships offering an “earn-while-you-learn” option that often provides immediate employment in a technical engineering based job. Careers advisors in particular need to be aware of the opportunities and importance of engineering as a career and to ensure that suitable pupils are encouraged to consider STEM subject uptake to help broaden their options at A-Level and beyond. Industry can also play its part by offering open days for younger pupils or by providing role models to visit schools to talk about the excitement of a career in engineering. If we can improve the uptake of individual STEM subjects and engineering at GCSE, then we can increase the flow of talented pupils throughout A-Level and university, ultimately delivering a larger graduate talent pool.”

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