Britain faces a pressing shortage of engineers partly because schools do not give pupils enough experience of problem-solving, one of the country’s most influential businessmen has said.
Lord Browne of Madingley, the former chief executive of BP, also said that the profession was struggling to attract young people because they did not understand it.
The UK has less enthusiasm for engineering than any other leading nation, according to a report published today. Barely one in five British teenagers expressed an interest in the field, compared with half of young Germans and more than two thirds of young Chinese people.
Half of British 16 and 17-year-olds said that engineering was “not prestigious or respected enough” to be an appealing career, ranking it well below science, medicine and the law. The UK is training less than a third of the 75,000 new engineers it needs each year to plug the country’s skills gap, according to a separate analysis published last year.
“Engineering is not a taught subject and I think it’s difficult to know what it is,” Lord Browne said. “People cannot identify with engineering and there remains a misconception of what engineering’s about. People still think it’s about building bridges and being Brunel.”
The report, commissioned by the Queen Elizabeth prize for engineering, was based on a survey of 1,000 people in each of ten of the world’s largest economies.
Roma Agrawal, a structural engineer who worked on the blueprints for the Shard, said her profession suffered from an image problem.
“The concept is difficult for young people,” she said. “They tend to think engineers are the people who come in and fix their washing machines rather than the people who build their iPhones.
“There’s a lack of engineering role models exposed to the sort of media that young people consume.”