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Volume 471: debated on Monday 4 February 2008

7. What steps his Department is taking to promote engineering as a career amongst 14 to 16-year-olds; and if he will make a statement. (183685)

We are funding a new communications campaign to provide advice on subject choices and careers in science and engineering, and to dispel narrow stereotypes about engineers. We are supporting activities to excite young people about engineering, such as the science and engineering after-school clubs, which will double in number to 500 by September, while the new style of teaching and learning delivered by the new diplomas from September should attract significant numbers into engineering from the age of 14.

I am very happy to hear what my hon. Friend has said, but is he aware of the recent study carried out by the Royal Academy of Engineering, “Public Attitudes to and Perceptions of Engineering and Engineers”, which found that young people were least aware of what engineering is all about? I am happy that he is making such efforts to promote engineering in schools, but will he monitor the situation closely, because we do not want to be in the same situation in a year’s time?

My hon. Friend is an effective champion on the issue in the House, and I know that he takes a great interest in the future of engineering. We will certainly continue to monitor things. He is right that the survey to which he referred showed that young people felt that they knew little about engineering or what engineers do. The reality is that engineering covers a wide range of interesting careers, including music, electronics and space. I hope that our communications campaign will open up young people’s eyes to the exciting world that he champions so well.

My hon. Friend might be aware that Enfield has a long and proud history in engineering. I recently met north London employers, who told me that they have trouble attracting good-quality candidates into engineering. The view of an engineer as someone who wears a boiler suit, has an oily rag and is themselves covered in oil is the one that predominates. Really good careers advice is needed to reflect what the profession is actually about. Ensuring that young people have a true vision of engineering through good vocational education is also crucial, so I am pleased to hear what the Minister has said. I, too, hope that he will monitor progress on the matter.

We certainly will. Last week I announced £140 million of spending on science, technology, engineering and maths-related issues, which underlines the significance that we place on them and is also a doubling of the funding over the previous three years. The points that my right hon. Friend made about careers advice and work-related learning are correct. I am sure that she applauds the work that we are doing to develop diplomas and, as part of that, to improve careers education. Indeed, there are measures in the Education and Skills Bill, which is currently in Committee, that address all those things.

Further to those questions and answers, I welcome what the Minister has said. Does he agree that it is vital that specialised engineering skills should be taught in schools as early as possible, particularly in the light of our decision to go ahead with new build in the nuclear industry? We are very short of engineers in that field.

It is because we are responding to employer demand, including in the area that my hon. Friend has mentioned, that we have focused so doggedly on the STEM subjects. I am confident that, as the strategy rolls out, the cross-government focus with our ministerial colleagues in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the Treasury and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform will enable us to respond to the skills needs of employers up and down the country.