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Stark message for young engineers

The recruitment crisis across engineering continues to deepen and is undermining the UK’s ability to tackle climate change.

That was the grim message from the CIBSE Young Engineers’ Network reception, held recently at the House of Commons.

Only 25,000 of the 37,000 vacancies for UK graduate engineers were filled last year. During the same period, China produced 350,000 graduate engineers and India 112,000.

“This is not a new problem, but it is getting worse,” said Sean O’Malley of the Arkwright Scholarship Trust.

“It would be easy to blame education and interference from successive governments, but the engineering community needs to shout more about what we need and what we do.”

The Arkwright Trust provides scholarships for secondary school pupils intent on a career in engineering and members of the CIBSE Patrons group support 17 of these scholarships.

Former Arkwright scholar Rachael Williams told the network meeting that many potential engineers were lost to the industry because “people don’t understand what we do. We need to promote ourselves better”.

At the reception the Young Engineers’ Network launched its Champ-ions’ Charter, which challenges employers and industry bodies to do more to attract and retain young engineers.

Michael Norton, chairman of YEN, said the network was working to “increase fellowship among those who have already chosen to work in our industry” so they could meet their own aspirations and also encourage potential entrants to “experience the excitement of building services engineering”.

But he said none of YEN’s ambitions would be achieved unless it had the commitment and “pledged support” of firms and individuals. He called on anyone interested in tackling the recruitment problem to sign up to the charter.

“Science and technology has lost its magic for young people,” said former CIBSE president Donald Leeper. “There are now 31 per cent fewer places for chemistry at UK universities than there were ten years ago and 40 per cent fewer for physics. Half of all teachers with science qualifications have packed up teaching in the past five years. Yet if you show children how things work, they can get really enthusiastic about engineering.”

He said the present generation of building services engineers was handing on huge problems to the next in tackling climate change and delivering sustainable buildings.

He said: “These are far bigger problems than my generation had to face and our young engineers are going to need a lot of help.”

Politicians, he added, did not have the answers as they had to face a “popularity contest” every four years, which was not conducive to delivering long-term strategies.

“President Bush has just walked out of the G8 talks without even agreeing to carbon reduction targets for 2050, while we have just learned that there may be no ice at the North Pole this summer,” he told the network.

“Climate change is speeding up and it is engineers who have to come up with the solutions.”