Engineering - Institute of Physics

Institute of Physics response to a House
of Commons Innovation, Universities and
Skills Committee Inquiry
A full list of the Institute’s responses and
submissions to consultations can be found
14 March 2008
14 March 2008
Clerk to the Committee
Innovation, Universities and Skills
Committee Office
House of Commons
7 Millbank
London SW1P 3JA
Dear Sir/Madam
The Institute of Physics is a scientific membership organisation devoted to increasing
the understanding and application of physics. It has an extensive worldwide
membership and is a leading communicator of physics with all audiences from
specialists through government to the general public. Its publishing company, IOP
Publishing, is a world leader in scientific publishing and the electronic dissemination
of physics.
The Institute welcomes the opportunity to respond to the House of Commons
Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee’s Inquiry on engineering.
The attached annex highlights the key issues of concern to the Institute which have
been linked to the specific questions raised.
If you need any further information on the points raised, please do not hesitate to
contact me.
Yours faithfully
John Brindley
Director, Membership and Business
Role of Engineering and Engineers in UK Society:
1.1 The role of engineering in advancing technology and the quality of life should not
be underestimated: engineering provides for progress in science, manufacturing, and
the creative and design industries. Engineering allows the results of scientific
innovation to be brought to the market. Additionally, innovations within the service
sectors are often underpinned by science and are enabled by engineers. We believe
that engineering, along with science, is a ‘trusted profession’, with key role in
providing the public and decision makers to with accurate information on which to
base their opinions and conclusions
1.2 More should be done to emphasise the contributions of both scientists and
engineers to the prosperity and success of the UK. The recent IET report Public
Perceptions of Engineering1 suggested that there is a low level of public awareness
of modern engineering. This lack of awareness is a key issue when preserving the
health of engineering as an academic discipline and information about the breadth of
jobs and careers within engineering should be provided in schools and universities.
There is a need for more people taking physics (and mathematics in combination) at
A-level if the UK is to produce enough skilled engineers to keep pace with the
emerging economies of China and India.
Role of Engineering and Engineers in the UK’s Innovation Drive:
2.1 The aim of the innovation drive is to take inventions and the results of scientific
research and turn them into innovative, marketable products that generate revenue
and raise the quality of life. For this to happen product manufacturing issues must be
addressed and engineers are essential for this process. The recent IOP report
Physics and the UK Economy2 states that physics-based industries contribute over
£70bn to the UK economy and employ more then a million people in the UK. These
industries, such as aerospace, telecommunications and high-technology
manufacturing, depend on physics knowledge and expertise for their survival, but
require engineering and engineers to design and manufacture products.
2.2 The UK’s science base is very strong; however the UK’s record in bringing
scientific developments to the marketplace is comparatively weak. Skilled engineers
are needed in this process; engineers are involved in both the secondary and tertiary
steps in innovation. A crude estimate of the cost in investment and manpower for
moving from research to development to production is roughly 1:10:100.
Furthermore, there is much anecdotal evidence of scientific developments originating
in the UK being developed into profitable businesses overseas because of the lack of
strength of the engineering base in the UK.
Engineering and Technology Skills and Demand in Industry, The IET 2007
Physics and the UK economy, The Institute of Physics 2007
The state of the engineering skills base in the UK, including the supply of
engineers and issues of diversity (for example, gender and age profile);
3.1 The state of the engineering skills base should not be assessed in isolation, but
in concert with other scientific disciplines. The term ‘engineer’ when used in the
workplace can cover a wide variety of skills and activities including physics. There
are comparatively few positions within high-technology industry with ‘physicist’ in
their job title, but often these nominal engineering positions rely heavily on physics
knowledge and will often be filled by those with physics qualifications. Physics Alevels are desirable in any engineer and it should be made clear to school pupils that
‘engineering’ is one of the fields in which physics-trained people can work.
3.2 Within the current pool of trained engineers there are demographic problems,
with a high proportion of workers planning to retire over the next decade2. There is a
limited number of skilled people under the age of 50, possibly due to a reduction in
apprentice training around 25 years ago, though we note recent efforts to revise the
programmes. The IET survey2 suggested that many firms are struggling to recruit
experienced engineers to replace these workers. Additionally, a ready supply of
skilled workers is a powerful incentive for companies to invest in the UK. Recent
experiences of firms such as Plastic Logic relocating their main manufacturing bases
overseas has demonstrated the powerful pull of trained workers for companies
wishing to develop the result of scientific research and a weakness in this area in the
UK. It is not immediately obvious how this problem can be solved in the short term,
but in the longer term, an overall increase in the number of engineering and physical
sciences graduates would provide for enough graduates to remain in the engineering
profession and also fill positions in other sectors such as finance and teaching.
3.3 There has been a decline in the rate of applications for Chartered Engineer
(CEng) status over the past ten years and an upward trend in the average age of
registrant, currently over 55 years old3. In contrast there have been recent increases
in the numbers of graduates from engineering degrees. The reasons behind this
decline in CEng applications are complex; however it may be partially explained by
engineering graduates moving into other professions such as finance and the service
sectors. It may also be due to companies being reluctant to provide financial support
to staff seeking to attain CEng status, feeling that there is no short-term gain to their
business. However, some high-technology companies have found that their
employees that achieve CEng status are both paid more than equivalent employees
who don’t have chartered status, and are also able to charge more for consultancy
work. The skills acquired through attaining chartered status are a means by which
the level of skills level of engineers within companies can be raised and the process
should be actively encouraged.
The importance of engineering to R&D and the contribution of R&D to
4.1 The success of science-based industries is integral to the UK meeting its target
R&D spend as set out in the Lisbon Agenda. For this to happen, a strong supply of
skilled workers will be needed. Scientific innovations generated through R&D need
the expertise of engineers to scale-up the products of the research to near market
products. Without good engineers this process is almost impossible and seldom
effective. Research by the IOP1 suggests that R&D spending in physics-based
sectors has declined in the period following 2001. R&D provides fuel for the
2007 Survey of Registered Engineers, The Engineering and Technology Board
advancement of innovative industries and this decline must be addressed, we
welcome the leadership role given to the Technology Strategy Board in this area,
particularly the proposed changes to the small business research initiative (SBRI).
The roles of industry, universities, professional bodies, Government, unions
and others in promoting engineering skills and the formation and development
of careers in engineering.
5.1 We believe that industry should promote a clear career structure that keeps good
engineers within the profession. There is also a case for companies to revisit
apprenticeship schemes as a means to train up and recruit qualified staff.
Companies should make it clearer that physics graduates are often well suited to
engineering jobs within their organisations and physics should be named as a
desirable degree on job adverts. The IOP is active in this area with its Physicists
Think campaign4, which promotes the abilities and skills of physics graduates to
human resources departments of large companies. Companies should also support
and encourage employees to seek CEng status as a means of strengthening the
skills base within their existing employees.
5.2 Companies should also be proactive in engaging with universities, which can
provide both an immediate research gain, and also the opportunity to engage with a
pool of skilled potential workers and to highlight the possible careers available to
them within engineering. This is an area already being pursued by large companies
such as BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce. Businesses should also engage in outreach
activities in schools to illustrate the career paths that are available to people who
train in science and engineering.
Professional Bodies:
5.3 Professional bodies should promote the CEng status as a major step in the
professional development of their members. This should include explaining the value
of the skills gained through the CEng application processes.
5.4 Universities should encourage more science/technology thinking amongst
students of the arts, humanities and social sciences, this could be through
introductory ‘taster courses’.
5.5 The government has a major role in stimulating growth in innovative sciencebased sectors of the economy. The proposed ‘intelligent’ procurement mechanisms
and revamped (SBRI) programme have the potential to have a substantial impact in
this area. Strong companies provide a draw for graduates in engineering and other
disciplines and serve to highlight the career paths available to pupils and students
studying science and engineering.
5.6 There have been some attempts to develop a progression route to engineering
through applied qualifications. These have had a limited impact and it remains to be
seen how the Engineering Diploma will fit into the educational environment, whether
it will be seen as a vocational qualification or as a route to academic entry. For the
moment, however, the main route to becoming a professional engineer is still via
mathematics and physics A-levels.
5.7 We note that the proposed development of a Science Diploma, which is currently
being promoted as an academic qualification, could add to the confusion about the
best route into engineering. Particularly when one considers the current state of
advice with respect to careers in STEM.
5.8 The problems facing physics education, e.g. lack of specialist physics teachers,
limited careers advice, and under-representation of girls are major problems for the
supply of the engineering pipeline and are manifested in the recruitment to university
engineering courses.
5.9 Whilst the government and others are addressing some of the issues facing
physics education we worry that the pivotal nature of physics in terms of progression
to engineering is not clearly understood across government. In particular, perhaps
because engineering does not have a strong identity in pre-19 education, there
appears to be a strong emphasis on extra-curricular interventions rather than
addressing the central problems in the classroom.
5.10 Until the fundamental issues of the physics teacher recruitment and retention of
is addressed we believe that participation in engineering and physics will not be
sufficient to satisfy the demand.
The Institute of Physics is a scientific membership organisation devoted
to increasing the understanding and application of physics. It has an
extensive worldwide membership and is a leading communicator of
physics with all audiences from specialists through government to the
general public. Its publishing company, IOP Publishing, is a world leader
in scientific publishing and the electronic dissemination of physics
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