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Volume 571: debated on Thursday 5 December 2013

In September the Government announced a £400 million boost for science, technology, engineering and maths teaching. Last month we launched the first annual Tomorrow’s Engineers week, during which the Government worked with more than 70 partners. Our recently published Perkins review of engineering skills calls for action from employers, educators and the profession to work with us to inspire young people to become engineers.

Does the Minister agree with the importance of getting local engineering employers to work closely with skills providers to inspire young people to go into engineering, and will he join me in welcoming the soon-to-open Heanor studio college, which will do exactly that?

We strongly support such initiatives, which are absolutely what is required to ensure that employers get the skilled engineers they need.

Now that the Government’s economic plan is delivering the rebalanced economy we need, we also need engineers, as the Minister just said. Does he agree that one way forward is to encourage engineering in schools, and to ensure that it is considered a protected profession?

I certainly agree that we need to encourage engineering in schools. “Engineer” is not a restricted term, but we support professional titles such as “chartered engineer” or “engineering technician”, which are regulated, and we aim to register 100,000 apprenticeships with EngTech status by 2018.

Does the Minister agree that investing in fundamental research is vital to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers and to create conditions for the serendipitous discoveries of the future?

I completely agree with the hon. Lady, which is why the Government support fundamental research. Only last week I went to the launch of £250 million of public money for centres of doctoral training run by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

One of the biggest engineering projects this country has ever seen will be High Speed 2. What specific steps is the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills taking in conjunction with the Department for Transport to ensure that engineering opportunities are available to businesses throughout the entire country, not just firms adjacent to the route?

We are already working with the current largest infrastructure plan, Crossrail, to ensure that skills are available and that we take the opportunity to build up skills in crucial techniques such as tunnelling. We will take the same approach to HS2.

I recently visited Fairfield Control Systems in my constituency, which is a small engineering company responsible not only for moving the roof at Wimbledon, but for the Division bells in the House of Commons. One of its main concerns was the Government’s encouragement of STEM subjects by the Department for Education. Has the Minister spoken with that Department about how we can encourage the teaching of STEM subjects within the school system?

STEMnet ambassadors are doing a fantastic job of going to schools to encourage young people to study those subjects. There is a surge in the number of young people taking A-levels in subjects such as maths and physics, which are often a requirement for going on to engineering.