On the day Peter Luff tables a bill with measures intended to inspire a new generation of engineers and scientist, he explains the background to his concerns. Peter Luff is Member of Parliament for Mid Worcestershire; Defence Equipment Minister (2010-2012) and Chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (2005-2010). Follow Peter on Twitter.
The Conservative Party has always faced up to the big challenges to our prosperity and security. That’s why we’re taking robust action on the biggest risk to the UK’s prosperity and security, the deficit. But what’s the second biggest risk? I say it’s the shortage of young engineers and scientists, and we’re not doing enough yet to address it.
During my five years as Chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee in the last Parliament, and during my two-and-and-half years as a defence minister in this one, the overriding concern I heard expressed time and time again by manufacturing and technology companies was that there just weren’t enough engineers – apprentices and graduates – to meet demand.
Even if it were true that we didn’t make anything anymore in the UK – which it isn’t – we would still need engineers to help us buy things from the rest of the world. Unless you know how something works, you can’t be sure you’ve bought the right thing. And in defence in particular, you often have to have UK nationals doing the work on national security grounds. To take just the most obvious example, the nuclear deterrent can’t rely on foreign engineering skills.
In the 70s, 80s and 90s, engineering got a pretty bad press. The news was dominated by strikes and job losses and it’s hardly surprising that the legacy of that time has had its impact on young people. But now engineering is one of the best paid and most secure careers a young person can choose.