Ahead of the UK's general election on 8 June, an alliance of 38 UK professional engineering organisations has identified five key priorities for the UK to harness the full capacity of its engineering talent in order to meet future societal challenges.
Engineering contributes some £280 billion to the UK’s economy, which represents 20 per cent of GVA and half the country's exports.
The priorities were determined after the Royal Academy of Engineering ran a survey and 10 workshops across the UK to gather the engineering profession's views on industrial strategy. According to the organisation, these goals can only be met through a consistent, long-term, whole-systems approach, rather than in the life of a single parliamentary term.
The priorities are stated as follows:
1. Define and clearly articulate a bold, global and ambitious vision for the UK
The next government must ensure that the UK is strongly positioned as an outward-looking trading nation and a top destination for inward investment and international talent via a modern industrial strategy. This will be critical if the UK is to exploit the opportunities and mitigate the risks associated with exiting the EU.
2. Focus the education and skills system on fully unlocking UK talent and potential
Talent and skills – increasingly, digital skills – are fundamental to the UK’s position as a world-leading economy, but this is threatened by a severe engineering skills shortage. As well as continuing to attract the best and brightest from around the world, it is vital that we maximise our own home-grown talent by ensuring more diversity and inclusion. We need to ensure that vocational education and training is fully funded and as much a priority as higher education. It is also essential to upskill and fully equip people for rewarding careers in the industries of the future.
3. Support innovation
Government should set a target of three per cent of GDP combined public and private R&D investment, and work with the private sector to formulate a roadmap to achieve this goal. Government also needs to demonstrate willingness to accept the risk of failure, or perceptions of it, in its support for innovation. Better collaboration between business and universities should be supported to reap benefits for the economy.
4. The benefits of engineering, in terms of economic growth and social advancement must be spread across the UK
Opportunities to improve living standards and increase productivity must be available across the whole of the UK. Local institutions – such as Local Enterprise Partnerships, Catapults and universities – need to attain consistent, national levels of excellence and their services must be promoted more widely to those who will benefit. We should build on existing successful initiatives and institutions and spread best practice and learning derived from them. Metrics must be developed that are sufficiently sensitive to local industries and demographics to monitor progress, identify areas that are not progressing as they should and target support accordingly.
5. Prioritise world-class supporting infrastructure
Infrastructure, including energy and digital, is critical to the wellbeing of society and the performance of the economy. A clear, long-term strategy is needed for all infrastructure to provide industry with the confidence to invest for the future. Regional plans that understand local needs will need to be integrated with national strategies. All new infrastructure will need to support economic growth alongside resilience and environmental sustainability. Energy efficiency must be a key driver.