Business secretary Vince Cable today highlighted the need to boost investment in engineering skills and training as part of the push drive growth into the UK economy.
Addressing delegates at the Association of Construction and Engineering annual conference in London, Cable admitted that the UK’s “poor” quality infrastructure was holding back the economy and said government now acknowledged the need to invest.
But he warned that a lack of skills and expertise in the engineering sector risks holding back the delivery of that investment and slowing the rate of economic growth.
“Often we can’t do what we want to do because we can’t find the right skills,” he said. “We need an expansion in support for apprentiships and a better understanding of vocational education. We are still desperately short of trained engineers.”
Bam Nuttall chief executive Steve Fox agreed that there was a problem at apprentice level but argued that the problem was not one of opportunity. “The problem is finding young people in the UK who want to train as apprentices,” he said. “The entire education system is still geared towards academic success.”
Cable accepted Fox’s argument. “There is no lack of interest or motivation [to train in engineering],” he said, highlighting that despite recent introduction of tuition fees, university demand for engineering courses had held up. “But it is correct that a lot of the problems [or lack of skills] do go back to the education system.”
He said the new tunnelling and underground academy in London was an example of what needed to happen. “We have to invest quite heavily in training. We need a pipeline of people coming through,” he said.