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UK risks ‘brain drain’ if it fails to invest more in a new generation of engineers

14 June 2011

The UK offers great potential career prospects to young engineers, but is in danger of losing its competitive edge in the engineering sector according to a new report by GE in the UK. The GE Young Minds Monitor (1) surveyed almost 1,000 lecturers and students of engineering and found contrasting attitudes to the UK’s global standings and future prospects.

A new generation of young engineers, inspired by icons such as Brunel and Dyson, are generally very positive about their prospects in the UK with almost 6 out of 10 claiming the sector is critical to the UK’s economic prosperity.  Most believe that engineering technology has a positive image as a career compared with other science disciplines, with a similar number feeling confident they will find a job in the sector when they graduate. 
However, lecturers are more concerned for the future competitiveness of the UK, seeing a potential brain drain of engineering talent to faster growing nations. 

Whilst the majority of lecturers feel the UK has a stronger skills base than other countries around the world, only 13 per cent of lecturers feel that the UK has a growing talent pool to draw on and that further investment, funding and support is needed to help the UK keep its place as an engineering force.  India is currently producing 650,000 engineering graduates a year compared to Britain's 20,000. In order to meet the estimated requirement for 970,000 engineers in Britain by 2017, it is estimated that at least 25,000 new engineering graduates per year are needed (2). Mark Elborne, President and CEO of GE in the UK said: “The engineering sector is the lifeblood of the UK economy and we clearly have a very bright, enthusiastic and skilled generation of young people coming through the system. However, our research shows that we need to continue to support this important pillar of growth by continuing to grow our skills base and competitive edge in engineering. There is a new generation of young people choosing engineering as a career – mainly because of the impact they can have on society.  These figures demonstrate that both business and government need to continue to support and invest in this new generation, to ensure we nurture and retain such talent.” 
The GE study shows that the academic community sees a number of challenges – such as cuts in public spending and costs of education - as potentially affecting the UK’s skills base and thereby threatening the UK’s future economic growth.   Not surprisingly, 62% of students and 60% of lecturers think cuts in public spending and rising tuition fees are going to have a negative effect on the numbers of young people choosing to study engineering in the future. One of the main barriers to more people choosing engineering technology to study or as a career is the perception that it is a predominantly male club.  68% of students and 65 per cent of lecturers agree that the UK struggles to attract enough women into engineering technology.
Both students and lecturers agree that the key to boosting the UK’s competitiveness is developing a more positive societal attitude regarding the benefits of engineering (86 per cent and 77 per cent ) and investment in higher education and vocational training (82 per cent and 64 per cent ).
In terms of the UK’s international standings: 

* According to lecturers, the United States is the leading market for career prospects (68 per cent), followed by China (67 per cent), Germany (59 per cent) and India (33 per cent). The UK was placed 5th (31 per cent). 

* According to students the UK offers the best career prospects (68 per cent), followed by USA (66 per cent), Germany (56 per cent), China (46 per cent) and Japan (36 per cent).

* More than half (56 per cent) of lecturers and four out of 10 students (41%) think the UK is less ambitious than the rest of the world to lead in the field of engineering technology. 

1. The GE Young Minds Monitor research study involved nearly 1,000 students and lecturers associated with engineering. The research sought to discover what technology leaders of today and tomorrow think about the future of the engineering technology sector as well as differences of opinion between lecturers and students. The survey was conducted by OpinionPanel Research. 

2. Source:

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