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Engineering Skills (Perkins Review)

Volume 572: debated on Tuesday 10 December 2013

[Mr Dai Havard in the Chair]

Professor John Perkins’s review of engineering skills was published on 4 November to rightly favourable reviews, and I am delighted to secure this debate because it gives us an opportunity to do four things. It enables us, first, to demonstrate parliamentary support for the review’s important message; secondly, to explore some of the review’s central recommendations; thirdly, to give the Government an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the message of the review and to the specific recommendations addressed to the Government; and fourthly, to emphasise that the challenges engineering faces in recruitment and the need to inspire a new generation of young people to enter science, technology, engineering and maths careers are not engineering challenges but marketing ones.

This is not a criticism, but so far the Government’s response to the Perkins review has been limited to an unscripted speech by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on the morning of the review’s publication, a press release containing some welcome announcements on aspects of the review and a brief parliamentary answer. I hope the Minister welcomes this opportunity to say a little more, because the issue is urgent.

When the review was published, Stephen Tetlow, chief executive of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

“If we do not meet the shortfall in skills we won’t just slip down the scale of world competitiveness, we will fall off the cliff… In a time of high unemployment, especially in the 18-25 age group, it is simply wrong to rely solely on importing the necessary talent or, more seriously, to allow industry to relocate overseas.”

I hope the Minister welcomes this opportunity to make clear the Government’s strong support for the review’s conclusions and to send a powerful message to the wider engineering community that it has a crucial role to play in making Professor Perkins’s recommendations work. Indeed, of the review’s 22 recommendations, only four are directed exclusively at the Government—the other 18 either require the Government to act in partnership with others or are directed entirely at other organisations. In total, 14 of Professor Perkins’s recommendations require Government action, but seven require employers to act, six are directed at the engineering institutions, three are directed at the broadly defined engineering community and nine are directed at various others, ranging from the Daphne Jackson Trust to the Tomorrow’s Engineers programme.

Before I go any further, I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which shows that I am a non-executive director of two small high-tech firms and that I have received hospitality from a major technology organisation, QinetiQ. That does not explain why I am here today, however.

As I told the House when introducing a ten-minute rule Bill on STEM careers in February, one of my two heroes is that most brilliant of engineers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. As someone who now wishes he had been an engineer, recent experience has convinced me that the shortage of engineering and technological skills is one of the greatest avoidable threats to our nation’s prosperity and security.

As Engineering UK said in its most recent assessment of the situation,

“the UK will need approximately 87,000 people per year over the next ten years to meet demand—and these people will need at least level 4 skills… Although supply has grown over the past year, we still have only 51,000 engineers coming on stream per year. In fact, the number of level 3 engineering-related apprenticeships has actually dropped from 27,000 to 23,500—falling well short of an annual demand of approximately 69,000.”

I detect a bit of a sea change. Suddenly, engineering and manufacturing are being discussed much more generally and much more positively. The skills shortage facing employers is becoming more generally understood, and the particular scandal of low participation of women in engineering is much more widely acknowledged, as the Perkins review shows.

Perhaps one of the hon. Gentleman’s engineering heroines ought to be Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s sister, whose engineering prowess is by no means as well known.

Or the daughter of Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace, who has a day named after her, and rightly so. I entirely agree that we need more heroes and heroines to inspire the younger generation.

The challenge is urgent. Engineering UK’s recent assessment also states:

“It is concerning that these challenges seem most intense in sectors that should be key drivers of the economic recovery… Responses from firms in the engineering, high-tech/IT and science areas show the highest proportion of both current and future problems in recruiting STEM-skilled employees, with more than one in four reporting current challenges in recruiting technicians (29%) and STEM graduates (26%).”

But still, engineering faces a crisis of misunderstanding. The excitement and challenge of modern engineering is still not properly understood outside engineering. The word “engineering” itself is a problem—“applied science” might be a better description of what engineering means—but we are stuck with the word and we must make it work. Engineering needs to be as highly regarded in this country as it is in countries as diverse as Germany, Jordan and India.

It is not the word but the interpretation of the word that is the problem. A doctor of engineering is an honourable profession in Germany. We must get away from the class-based assumption that engineers have dirty fingernails. Engineering is a high-skilled profession, and we must reflect that in this debate.

The hon. Gentleman explains the purpose of my remark better than I did, and I am grateful for his intervention.

Engineers cannot tell us what they do, at least not consistently. Ask an engineer what engineering is, and they will often give compelling answers that are brilliantly insightful, but engineers are all different. I think it was the Prime Minister who recently described engineers as

“the poets of the practical world.”

He is right, and it is that sense of wonder at what engineering can achieve that will help us to achieve our objective of getting more young people into engineering.

I like the description on the bottom of a Women’s Engineering Society poster:

“Engineering is all around us. It’s in the phone in your hand and the shoes on you feet. It’s in sub-sea pipelines and supersonic planes, towering skyscrapers and nanotechnologies. It’s even in the perfectly-baked cupcake (ovens don’t heat themselves). And it’s engineers who make all this possible—just try imagining a world without them.”

We must make engineering more diverse, not for the sake of political correctness but because members of ethnic minorities and women who are not engineers but could be are missing out on one of life’s great opportunities. Engineering skills shortages would be considerably less acute if we could make engineering more diverse.

I am grateful to the Women’s Engineering Society for drawing my attention to an article in this month’s Top Gear magazine containing 40 images of a Formula 1 team. All the people are white men except the press officer and the six hospitality staff, who are in short skirts, of course. Intriguingly, the head of electronics looks rather like Doc Brown from “Back to the Future.” Perhaps Top Gear wants to take us back to the future of a world in which engineering is dominated entirely by men. Even Jeremy Clarkson might be a little embarrassed by the stereotypes portrayed in the article. The girls at Silverstone university technical college, whom the article purports to be about, are very cross that they are being so badly misrepresented by the magazine. I think Top Gear will be correcting the record, but the article is an example of the kind of problems we face.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I apologise for being late and because I cannot stay for this important debate due to other engagements. I congratulate him on bringing forward this critical debate. Does he agree that that Top Gear illustration shows not only how engineering is often portrayed in the media, but also the challenge for young girls seeking to go into engineering—as I did, as a chartered engineer? It is a negative portrayal of what can actually be a most inspiring, engaging and fulfilling career.

I absolutely agree. Having come from an engineering background, the hon. Lady says that with much more effect than I can—politics’ gain is engineering’s loss. I am most grateful for her helpful and entirely correct remarks.

In a ten-minute rule Bill in February, I tried to be simple and focused. I wanted to increase demand from young people and to make them more enthusiastic about pursuing STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and careers, whether as apprentices or graduates; to inspire them about the possibilities in engineering, science and technology; to show them by practical example and experience while at school that engineering and technology are exciting and important careers; and then to sustain that interest throughout their time at school.

Some things have changed for the better since February. A new design and technology curriculum provides the opportunity for schools to work with businesses to deepen understanding of the realities of engineering, which was my first objective. I want to pay real tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), the Minister with responsibility for schools, for working with all groups involved to transform the Government’s original proposals. Sadly, I see fewer signs than I would like that the Department for Education really understands its role in helping young people to prepare for the world of work. Employers still sense reluctance at the Department for Education to regard schools, in the memorable phrase of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), who hoped to be here but is sadly indisposed, as part of the supply chain for industry.

I suspended my campaign on the policy suggestions in my Bill and said that I would wait for the Perkins review. It was due in July and sadly delayed to November, but it proved well worth waiting for. As I waited, I concentrated on two issues. The first was the need to do much, much more to inspire young people about the opportunities in engineering, and second was the need to counter the appalling gender stereotyping already discussed. I was therefore delighted to see those two issues considered so thoughtfully in John Perkins’s review, but the response of the engineering community now needs to be clear and convincing and needs above all to take on the challenge of marketing engineering to young people, starting at primary school age.

I should step back a moment and offer categorical congratulations to Professor Perkins. Indeed, the Royal Academy of Engineering has encouraged me to offer a bouquet to Professor Perkins and the wider Department for Business, Innovation and Skills team

“for conducting an exemplification of open policy making. John actively sought out the views of the engineering profession and created the conditions where institutions large and small could get their voices heard. It was brilliant work.”

It also offers a bouquet to the Department for Education, by the way, which, despite my earlier reservations, I do endorse,

“for their reforms to Computing, D&T and vocational education and their willingness to take detailed advice from the engineering profession. The engagement on both sides has been excellent.”

Steve Holliday, chief executive officer of National Grid described the Perkins review to me as

“one of the best reports I have seen in quite some time”.

I agree with all that, but I want to examine one or two details with a critical eye. The royal academy offers the correct cautionary note:

“None of this is easy—particularly the things around diversity—and so on-going collaboration between Government and the engineering profession is key. We’ve had that during the periods of review and reform [good] and now the challenge is to find a mechanism to keep that going in the long term steady-state.”

We need an implementation plan from the Government and from the engineering community.

Against that background, I offer eight observations on areas of the report. The first is a particular bête noire of mine: the lack of attention to defence. The report is strangely silent on the wider security and national resilience issues caused by a shortage of British engineering talent. Defence and security face the greatest threats, as they often cannot use non-British labour on national security grounds. It is true that the bigger companies, such as BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, have no problem recruiting as they are so well-known. They are now over-recruiting to their apprenticeship programmes to feed apprentices into their supply chains, which is welcome and good of them. Smaller companies, however, face huge challenges in finding the right skills. Organisations such as GCHQ are also challenged and need all the home-grown cyber-expertise they can find. I am delighted to be a member of the skills group of the defence growth partnership, and I hope to be able to play my part and to address some of the issues.

My second concern, at which I have already hinted, is that the age group recommended by Perkins is too old. We need to go younger. The National Foundation for Educational Research looked at features of the activities and interventions in schools that were most successful at improving young people’s engagement in STEM. It found that of the five most beneficial activities they identified, the first was to engage pupils at an early age and at key transition points. Indeed, the Perkins review actually says:

“If we are going to secure the flow of talent into engineering, we need to start at the very beginning…Starting to inspire people at 16 years old is too late; choices are made, and options are closed off well before then. So we need purposeful and effective early intervention to enthuse tomorrow’s engineers.”

It is no accident that the “inspiring women” campaign, organised by Inspiring the Future and recently launched by Miriam Gonzalez, aims to start talking to girls at the age of 8, not 11 as Perkins recommends. A recent report from King’s College London on young people’s science and career aspirations said:

“Efforts to broaden students’ aspirations, particularly in relation to STEM, need to begin at primary school. The current focus of most activities and interventions—at secondary school—is likely to be too little too late.”

Steve Holliday told me of his company:

“National Grid’s current strategy is to ‘get in early’ by presenting engineering as a vibrant and viable career choice to a mixed culture and cross gender audience from the age of 8 years upwards.”

If hon. Members want to see a good video for encouraging people to get into STEM careers, I recommend the film produced by Nigel Whitehead of BAE Systems. I have the YouTube address here, but if hon. Members google “engineering careers and BAE Systems”, they will find it. I will happily share the link with anyone afterwards. Perkins’s fifth recommendation to reach out

“particularly to girls aged 11 to 14”

should be rethought. Eight is a much better age to begin.

My third concern is about female participation; the report contains insufficient detail on what we can do to address that problem.The Women’s Business Council’s report, “Maximising Women’s Contribution to Future Economic Growth”, makes the point that while women need work, work also needs women. Ford of Britain said to me:

“Above all there is a need for stronger and more systematic collaboration between educators, industry, BIS and the Department for Education to improve both the reputation and the uptake of STEM subjects and engineering amongst girls.”

I agree with that and worry that, despite the damning evidence produced by Perkins, his recommendations fall well short of a credible path to do something about it. I am working with Science Grrl, a creative group of young professional women working in STEM, to produce specific recommendations to address the issue. We aim to produce a report in March. The Select Committee on Science and Technology, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), is holding its own inquiry and will hopefully produce its report in the not-to-distant future. The Women’s Engineering Society has some pretty clear and compelling advice to employers and schools, which I commend. We certainly need a clearer plan of action than that offered in Perkins.

The report fails to address the failure to engage local enterprise partnerships, whose potential contribution could and should have been addressed. As the Minister of State at BIS said in a recent written answer:

“At local level, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) have the lead role in setting strategies for skills within their overall Strategic Economic Plans”—[Official Report, 8 October 2013; Vol. 568, c. 268W.]

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the excellent points he is making, and on the enormous impact he has already had on turning round the design and technology curriculum. Does he welcome the work going on in the Worcestershire local enterprise partnership to get local business, such as Worcester Bosch and Mazak, working with local schools to promote engineering at both primary and secondary level?

I welcome the intervention from my hon. Friend, who is my own Member of Parliament. He is absolutely right that the Worcester LEP is doing all the right things, but I doubt whether that is necessarily the case in every LEP area. The Government need to do more to ensure that best practice is shared, even if they do not go down my preferred route of LEPs having a statutory responsibility to share it.

There is also the question of careers advice. Engineering fits into a bigger picture of careers advice in schools. Some interesting research from the Education and Employers Taskforce on NEETs—those not in education, employment or training—was recently drawn to my attention. It is actually two years old, but I only found out about it last week. It was published in February 2012 and asked young adults aged 19 to 24 about their current employment status, and to reflect on their experiences of the world of work while they were at school. The findings were striking. Of the young people who could recall no contact with employers while at school, 26.1% went on to become NEETs. That reduced significantly to 4.3% for those who had taken part in four or more activities involving employers such as career insights, mentoring, work tasters, work experience and so on. As Steve Holliday of National Grid puts it:

“Beyond the Perkins report, the final point I would make is that for the engineering sector to land its messages well, there needs to be a solid foundation of general careers advice/awareness in schools…This will require a joined up strategy between DfE and BIS, with schools and business then having their part to play in making this a reality. I fear that without it, interventions will be too fragmented to make a real impact.”

That would be very serious.

On a slightly more positive note, the report’s recommendations 12 and 13 on vocational education are valuable. The Royal Academy of Engineering offers this perspective:

“In all of John’s work, probably the bit with the greatest potential for long term impact relates to apprenticeships. All critiques of ‘modern apprenticeships’”—

those under this Government and the previous one—

“show that not all have matched the generally accepted benchmark of the advanced engineering apprenticeship. And government’s response to the Richards’ review promises to make even the engineering apprenticeship better. But the potential significance of those reforms is not obvious to most readers of the Perkins review. With cross-party consensus on apprenticeship, this is the time for a drive to quality outcomes and not just growth in apprenticeship starts”—

as welcome as those are.

“Britain could close the gap on the German dual system if she put her mind to it”.

That is an important point for the Minister. I know he is working hard for this and I congratulate him on and thank him for all his work, but it is encouraging to see the Perkins review so welcomed by the engineering community in that respect. I would labour the point, but I want to make progress and leave time for others to speak.

Moving on to my final two related points, for something to happen, someone has to own the issue, and what is needed is a proper marketing campaign devised by experts, not the engineering of ever more elegant solutions by engineers. I am afraid that the Perkins team clearly did not speak to any marketing experts as they prepared their report. The recommendations under the heading “Inspiration” are helpful but, to be blunt, inadequate. Recommendations 3, 4 and 5 are well intentioned, but not informed by proper understanding of communications. They are recommendations by engineers to engineers. Recommendation 3, on core messages, is okay, and the fourth one, on support for the Tomorrow’s Engineers programme, is correct but limited. Recommendation 5, however, desperately needs to be strengthened.

Rightly directed at the Government and the engineering community, recommendation 5 is for a:

“High profile campaign reaching out to young people, particularly girls aged 11-14 years, with inspirational messages about engineering and diverse role models, to inspire them to become ‘Tomorrow’s Engineers’. The engineering community should take this forward as an annual event.”

For me, this recommendation is groping towards a definition of the central task, but it does not address the right age group and is too limited in its understanding of what is involved. Furthermore, remember that reference to an “annual event”. I repeat my profound concern that starting at 11 is simply too old. Girls in particular are being told at primary school that they do not do science, engineering and technology. We must address that problem. Rightly, the report states that

“we need purposeful and effective early intervention to enthuse tomorrow’s engineers”,

and that there are

“widespread misconceptions and lack of visibility that deter young people”.

The logic of those compelling points, however, has been pursued rigorously. A full, year-round marketing campaign is needed to address not only young people—primarily eight to 14-year-olds—but their parents and teachers; all the other valuable initiatives can sit under that campaign, from which they will all benefit. There are literally thousands of such initiatives. The better known include Big Bang, Tomorrow’s Engineers, STEMNET, Primary Engineer, the 5% Club and Bloodhound SSC, as well as the programmes of individual companies, voluntary bodies, public sector organisations, trade associations and professional institutions. Much work has been done by Engineering UK to bring all those initiatives together under the Tomorrow’s Engineers banner, but we need to do much more to explain the overall message of engineering.

I am indebted to George Edwards—he is sitting not a million miles away from us in the Public Gallery—an 18-year-old A-level engineering student from Kent who told me just how bad things are. He had some suggestions to make:

“As a student who has been on the receiving end of almost all of the engineering propaganda aimed at schools, 1 genuinely couldn’t describe what I am supposed to think about a career in engineering. Other than the need for more engineers, there are no clear or pragmatic messages being put across and as the problem becomes of a higher agenda for the media, the response is just to shout louder about the need for engineers.

Outreach must have substance and peer-led inspirational marketing, targeted at appropriate age groups”.

He is absolutely right.

Professor Perkins correctly speaks of the need to inspire, which requires not engineering skills but marketing and communications professionalism. He says in his report’s introduction that he has

“spoken to…industrialists, professional bodies, and educators.”

Although he rightly concludes that inspiration is essential, he appears not to have spoken to people with the appropriate marketing skills to inspire eight to 14-year-olds. This leads him to a limited understanding of what is needed to address the problems he identifies.

The UK marketing sector, similar to engineering, is world class and noted as such by many leading global brands. It is time for engineers to stop engineering solutions to the skills issue and to turn to professional marketing, just as any other organisation, product or brand would. Perkins rightly says:

“We should ensure that…messages are carefully crafted, based on the best available evidence about how to influence and communicate effectively with young people.”

I underline the point that this means working with marketing experts with proven expertise and success, not engineers. What engineers think is important might have no resonance at all with their audience.

The Government and the engineering community are both good at patting themselves on the back for all that they are doing. For example—I tread on dangerous ground here—Professor Perkins praises the Royal Academy of Engineering’s STEPS at Work initiative because it reaches 1,300 teachers and enables them to spend a day with a local engineering employer. I bow to none in my admiration for the royal academy and the outstanding work of Matthew Harrison on such issues, but with respect to them and to Professor Perkins, that scheme is a well-intentioned failure, not a success. There are more than 400,000 teachers in the state sector alone—can engineering really boast that only a little more than 1,000 of them have been persuaded to spend just one day finding out more about local jobs for their students?

The report tells us that the majority of boys and girls have had no encouragement from anyone at all—parents, teachers or friends—even to consider engineering as a career.

The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point. Does he agree with me and my Committee that part of the problem is the failure of the Department for Education to provide the space for continual professional development among our teachers?

I agree that CPD is clearly an important component of what is needed to achieve the sea change, but it is not the sole answer. There is no one silver bullet; what is needed is a coherent, organised communication and marketing campaign encouraging teachers, parents and the young people they inspire to do the right thing. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but that is only part of the solution. The exciting and stimulating story of UK engineering needs to be told to the wider public, and it simply is not being told. This is a massive marketing failure, and not an easy one for engineers to resolve. Indeed, it will not be easy even for marketing professionals, but at least they are used to dealing with hard-to-sell products.

As the report underlines, the action taken by engineers to remedy that market failure has been to create “a wealth of initiatives” and therefore a “complex” and “confusing landscape”. The engineering community’s lack of engagement with marketing professionals to develop a targeted marketing programme has inevitably led to this ineffective but well-intentioned, if costly, muddle. In the report, we read that we need a “high profile media campaign”. Intriguingly, the word “media” is dropped in the summary of recommendations, and rightly so. What is needed is not a media campaign but a well-considered marketing programme, which will include as only one part of it an engagement with all types of media that reach eight to 14-year-olds, speaking to them in their language and not the language of engineers. Such a programme must emphatically not rely on only one “annual event”. Many events can be part of such a campaign, including Tomorrow’s Engineers week and the excellent Big Bang fair. A campaign is not an event or even a collection of events; it is a disciplined programme of communications activity that goes on all year.

A recent report drawing on discussions at a meeting jointly hosted by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Engineering and Technology in February, with key players from some 30 organisations representing industry, academia, sector skills councils and Government, concluded:

“It is therefore crucial that all the sector skills councils, trade associations, third-sector enhancement and enrichment organisations as well as existing engineering professionals, work in unison rather than isolation. Passionate urging and fragmented campaigning at best confuse prospective interest and at worst turn it away. It is only through a co-ordinated system and consistent messaging from all involved that growth through a rebalanced economy can occur.”

I agree with those wise words from the engineering community.

The Royal Academy of Engineering, working with Engineering UK, is well placed to achieve that. I hope they will rise to the opportunity—with, of course, the active encouragement of the Government.

The hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) and I go back a long way. We sailed under Sir George Zambellas, now the First Sea Lord, on HMS Argyle many years ago—

In 1996 or thereabouts. The hon. Gentleman has gone a long way since then. He and I remain humble Back Benchers in this debate, but we both have a passionate interest in the subject.

The hon. Gentleman made observations about how UK engineering is presented. I was infuriated by the failure of the “Top Gear” programme, when it held that fantastic event in the Mall, to present Vauxhall Motors as one of the great British engineering success stories. The griffin motor corporation started just down the road over in Vauxhall, but is now making cars in my constituency and vans in Luton. According to Jeremy Clarkson, however, Vauxhall Motors was not good enough to be exposed to the British media. People creating such a bias is part of the problem.

I make my second point to both the Front-Bench spokesmen: this is not about the party political game, but about the future of a critical part of British infrastructure. We could all talk about a number of good news stories, but we must be mature and also reflect on some of the problems that we are facing.

The hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire reflected on the work of LEPs. We could have a long ideological debate on LEPs versus regional development agencies, but that would not be constructive. Some LEPs are starting to move positively in the right direction, including my own one in Cheshire, which is chaired by Christine Gaskell from Bentley. More importantly, a number of the major companies in the broader north-west are starting to pull together a solid science and engineering policy for the region, reflecting the collaboration by LEPs across boundaries. Some might say that that is reinventing the RDA, but I do not want to go down that track today. Those companies are presenting a coherent, joined-up policy in the way that we need.

Following on the heels of my Select Committee’s report on engineering skills, the Perkins review came to a similar set of conclusions. On continuing professional development—the issue on which I intervened on the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire—we recommended that engagement with industry be a core requirement of teachers’ continuing professional development. The Perkins report says:

“The engineering community should provide continuing professional development for teachers, giving them experience of working in industry”.

Here is a message that can be sent out from both Front Benches to industry: facilitate that. Coming from both Front Benches, that message would be hugely powerful.

Both reports agreed that the vocational training route into engineering was under-appreciated. The Committee was critical of Government changes to the engineering diploma following the Wolf review. The Perkins review did not comment on the reasons for the changes, but stated that

“the Royal Academy of Engineering has already led work to develop a suite of successors to the Level 1 and 2 Diploma Principal Learning qualifications in engineering.”

The review went on to say that those have been

“accredited by Ofqual and submitted for approval for the 2016 Key Stage 4 performance tables.”

Those are important steps.

The Minister has been working closely with his colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), on some important matters that will help this process, but I have to say this bluntly: it is vital that we break down the ridiculous barrier that still exists in the minds of the many people who think there is a brick wall between skills that are traditionally called vocational and skills that are traditionally called academic. Personally, I do not like the word “vocational”—it seems reflective of training to be a priest or the like. Nor do I like using the word “practical” for such skills, because chartered engineers such as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), who has just left the Chamber, need to learn how to use the tools of the trade.

There needs to be a continuum across engineering, so that people who join the profession, perhaps as technician apprentices, have the opportunity to move forward through higher level apprenticeships to develop to their maximum potential. We need to open that door. The failure at the moment is that we have a structure that does not allow that flexibility and is too segmented, based as it is on the roles of the sector skills councils, the further education colleges and the universities as three separate groups of organisations instead of as a continuum providing for the needs of each trainee.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I am sure he would wish to remind hon. Members that in companies such as BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce apprentices flow through to very senior management levels—in fact, it is extraordinary how successful engineering apprentices are in those big organisations.

I absolutely agree. My point is that that happens despite the system. Companies recognise that apprenticeships are the way to develop the skills that they need.

That point leads me neatly to my third observation about the comparison between my Select Committee’s report and the Perkins review. We talked about the university technical colleges. The Committee welcomed UTCs, although it cautioned that

“the network of UTCs will not provide nationwide coverage and the Government must also focus on good engineering education in schools and colleges.”

Perkins says:

“Government should build on the UTC experience and seek to develop elite vocational provision for adults”.

All that is enormously important. As part of our inquiry, one of my senior advisers, Xameerah Malik, and I went to see the JCB academy. I recommend the visit to everyone in this room: it is an exemplar of what can happen if the mix is right. I left there saying to Xameerah, “I want to go back to school.” It really is an exciting place to learn. Very cleverly, the academy has created an environment where people get inside problems—address technical education as well as other more academic and broader subjects by getting inside them, in a way that neither traditional secondary schools nor traditional grammar schools ever did. It is an exciting place to visit and I commend it to everyone.

How we develop in this sector requires a different approach. In my own area, we are starting to put together a proposition, which I hope will go before the Minister in the not too distant future, on creating such a vehicle inside the community which provides the skills necessary for the automotive, aerospace and chemical sectors in my constituency. It is hugely important to try to make that happen.

The difference between us is not in the content of my Select Committee’s report—my staff, Xameerah Malik and Myfanwy Borland, have done a fabulous job in pulling together some comparisons between the Perkins review and that report. We need to try to move to action on behalf of the Government—with, I hope, the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), who speaks for the Opposition, as I would like to see a genuinely joined-up approach.

My plea is that, rather than trying to identify where minor differences might exist between the political parties, Members on both Front Benches get together to create a long-term solution to take us through a generation. This issue cannot be solved within one Parliament; it needs to be addressed in the long term, so it is vital that we get that joined-up response. It is also vital that we hear from the Minister that the Government will approach this issue in a collegiate manner and provide a solution that helps us to solve the problems that the hon. Gentleman cogently set out.

I call on Members in all parts of the House to find a way forward to address the proposals that John Perkins has cleverly put together and to ensure that our engineers, like German engineers, as I mentioned in an intervention, are referred to as doctors of engineering and held in high esteem. They should be, given that they make an enormously valuable contribution to the society in which we live.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) on securing the debate. I want to make two or three quick points.

I stand before Members as a lapsed engineer. Thirty years ago, I set off for Imperial college, determined to become an engineer. I finished my degree, and I then became a chartered accountant, although I did go back to work in technology. I have followed many debates about engineering over the past 30 years, and it might be useful to isolate the reasons why so many people in our country, uniquely, follow such a career path and what the Government, educators and society more generally can do to make it less prevalent. I think we all agree it is not a good thing.

As I said, I am a lapsed engineer. Latterly, I have also failed to get my daughter to do A-level physics. She is doing maths and chemistry, which is a bridge too far. I realise, therefore, that my credentials for speaking in this debate are not as strong as they might be.

I have three points. First, on status and culture, there has been something unique about the status of engineering in Britain, although that is perhaps truer of England than of Britain. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) talked about engineers in Germany; I used to work in Norway a lot, where, again, people referred to engineers in the same way as they would to doctors. We do not do that in this country, and we have never really got close to doing it. Clearly, it does not matter that much, but it is an indicator of the way society regards the profession.

Another indicator—I have often reflected on this—is when an engineer was last on “Desert Island Discs” or “Woman’s Hour” talking about what they do and how they have made a difference. One of this country’s big success stories over the past few years has been Range Rover. It cannot make enough of its new aluminium cars, given how many it sells all over the world, but how many people in our country could even come close to naming the cars’ chief designer? Would that be the same in Germany, France and Holland? I suggest not, and we need to be cognisant of that. Things have got better recently—and they need to, given the shortage of engineers.

I would depart slightly from some of the remarks made by the two previous speakers. There can be a danger of confusing technicians with engineers. I do not say that in a snobby way, but there can be an assumption that people have to be practical to study engineering—that those who would study engineering at Oxford, Cambridge or Imperial would be the sort of people who enjoy stripping down a car. That is not true, and having such an assumption at the heart of the discipline of engineering can be a problem. That is not to say that places such as the JCB academy are not brilliant—we absolutely need more of them, and they have a role to play—but we must be careful about our language.

At organisations such as the Royal Dutch Shell group, the top half-dozen people will almost always have an engineering background. In Royal Dutch Shell’s case, that is partly because of its Dutch heritage, rather than its British heritage—[Interruption.] Yes, it is. In so far as there are disciplines and professions in the Royal Dutch Shell group, the people with an engineering background tend to be based in Holland, not the UK, which is stronger on marketing.

Aside from status and culture, we also have salary and prospects. When I finished my engineering degree, I became a chartered accountant. One of the guys who started on the same day had come top in engineering at Cambridge, but he became a chartered accountant and then went into the City—I do not know what happened to him after that. That would happen in no other country in the world; nobody in the United States who left the Massachusetts Institute of Technology having come high up the list of graduates would go on to become a certified public accountant.

However, at the time I became a chartered accountant—it was 30 years ago, although I suspect this is still happening—we saw fit to incentivise people in a certain way. The guy who joined with me was making a commercial decision about his career, and he thought, rightly or wrongly, that he could do better and progress more quickly by taking the route he did. As a result, however, there was a penalty to be paid by society, and I contend that we have been paying it for the past 20 or 30 years.

There is also an issue about salary. I gently point out that, while the Government hire many engineers and people from other professions, such as barristers, we would have to go a long way to find engineers we chose to pay £200,000 or £300,000 purely from Government money, in the same way as we choose—again, uniquely in this country—to remunerate advocates.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Just for the record, I should say that the median annual salary by degree subject six months and three and a half years after graduation is higher for engineering and technology than it is for law.

I am delighted to hear that. However, I repeat my question: how many engineers do the Government pay £200,000 or £300,000 a year, in the same way as they apparently pay advocates—a subset of them are about to go on strike over their pay—out of public, as opposed to private, money? We think that is normal. That is to do with cultural norms and with an assumption we make in this country about the relative value of careers, which is wrong.

Finally, we have made a lot of progress—even in this Parliament—on education. I welcome a lot of the noise coming out of the Government about the need to promote technical education, maths and physics—the STEM subjects—and all that goes with that. I have been of the view that a liberal arts-biased education system is deeply ingrained in our country. I very much hope that the progress that has been made in the past few years towards emphasising STEM—particularly for women—continues. Fixing the issue is a prerequisite for achieving the sort of economy we will need to have in the next two or three decades.

Order. Before I call Meg Munn, I should point out that I have been informed that we may have a Division fairly soon. If we do, I will have to suspend proceedings for 15 minutes. In the meantime, however, we will carry on.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) on securing the debate and on his excellent contribution.

The Perkins review is an important publication. It clearly shows that the Government and others need to do much more to ensure we are not disadvantaged more than we are by the lack of people with engineering skills or by people not using the engineering skills they have. The review highlights the low proportion of women working in engineering and states:

“One of the main reasons…is girls’ subject choices in school.”

Few girls study mathematics, and even fewer physics, through to A-level. In 2011, 49% of state-funded schools had no girls taking A-level physics at all. Much has been written on the issue, including by me. Many initiatives have been tried, but the proportion of women engineers remains stubbornly small. Recommendation 7 of the Perkins review states:

“Government should continue to support schools to increase progression to A-level physics, especially among female students.”

That is to be welcomed.

An important development is the latest report by the Institute of Physics, which was launched only yesterday. It contains important information on subject choices in secondary schools. Entitled “Closing Doors,” it shows the individual consequences to young people of choosing particular subjects for A-level—in particular, the decision not to study physics closes doors to a wide range of engineering roles. Importantly, the research is undertaken on a wide range of subjects: three that are predominantly studied by girls at A-level and identified as such, and three predominantly studied by boys and identified as boys’ subjects. The research shows that is not just in physics that there is a significant failure to challenge gender stereotyping.

Simply cajoling girls to study physics, however, is not an answer; there are wider issues of gender stereotyping in schools. The gender equality duty, introduced by the Equality Act 2006, requires public bodies to have due regard to the need

“to promote equality of opportunity between men and women.”

That also means between girls and boys. Some schools do challenge stereotyping, and we need more research to understand how they do that and what works for students. Schools across the country that have poor results have been analysed by the Institute of Physics, and they need support and help to change and improve.

Professor Perkins argues in recommendation 5 that we should be aiming to inspire 11 to 14-year-olds to become tomorrow’s engineers. However, like the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire, I contend that our efforts to broaden young people’s views of where science can take them must begin at the very least at primary school, if not earlier. Most children form an early view about the kind of careers that are open to them, so focusing on secondary school children is likely to be too little, too late.

We should ensure that all nursery, primary and secondary education is free from gender bias in the roles presented to children. A previous report by the Institute of Physics, “It’s Different for Girls,” outlined how single-sex schools are significantly better than co-educational schools at getting girls into non-traditional subjects. That confirms the vital importance of role models to the young when they are considering careers, as well as the real benefit of someone not feeling like the odd one out if they decide to study a particular subject. At a co-educational school, a girl choosing physics is likely to be in a minority; in a single-sex school that is clearly not a problem. I do not advocate single-sex schools at all, but we must learn why they are getting more girls to study physics than co-educational schools.

Role models are very important, and in Sheffield we have an inspiring one. Ruth Amos is 24 years old and already running her own company.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming

Before the suspension, I was about to talk about Ruth Amos, aged 24, who is already running her own company. She designed a product, the StairSteady, for her GCSE resistant materials course, to help people who have difficulty using stairs but do not have the money or space for a stairlift. We should champion stories such as Ruth’s in our schools.

As hon. Members have said today, the Department for Education has a crucial role in ensuring that young people have the necessary skills to pursue a career in engineering. I was concerned to learn that many local schools offer only a generic GCSE, so students are prevented from even considering physics at A-level. The state-funded secondary education sector, including academies and free schools, should not seek league table success by opting for so-called easier subjects at GCSE. All must offer and promote the three individual sciences and maths. That should be coupled with an embedded model of careers education in which curriculum learning is linked to a wide range of real-life careers. I do not have time today to cover the woeful state of our careers advice service, but it must be tackled if we are to have any chance of achieving the outcomes to which Perkins rightly aspires.

Of course, a traditional academic approach is not the only way to develop tomorrow’s engineers. Recommendation 10 of the Perkins review rightly stresses the importance of providing élite vocational provision. We have seen the success of that in Sheffield. The university of Sheffield advanced manufacturing research centre with Boeing is focusing on recruiting more female apprentices, with a new cohort joining in April. Sheffield Hallam university’s women in science, engineering and technology team is providing advice and support on how to make that ambition a reality. Furthermore, our brand new university technical college boasts 14% female students in its first year, and deserves credit for that when, on average, only 2% of engineering apprentices are female.

Skills shortages in engineering are a national issue, requiring leadership and co-ordination, and Perkins was right to call for a more joined-up approach. Having worked on the issue for a long time, I am familiar with the plethora of institutes involved in this work and the need to co-ordinate better, but I think it was a mistake for the Government to withdraw all funding from the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology, which was an excellent co-ordinating organisation for all initiatives involving gender. I suggest to the Minister that it is not only important to work across the engineering institutions, but that joining up initiatives in geographical areas might lead to better outcomes.

I want to bring to my hon. Friend’s attention work that we are doing in the north-west that emulates the work that she has been involved in with our mutual friend, Dick Caborn, at the advanced manufacturing research centre in Sheffield. Now that we have acquired for the university of Chester the Thornton research centre, previously owned by Shell, the vision is not only to turn that into a new faculty of chemistry and chemical engineering, but to have an industry-focused training and innovation environment that helps address problems in the same way as is happening at Sheffield. It is built on the Catapult model, which we need to grow in this country.

I thank my hon. Friend for his example of the importance of working across organisations in one geographical area.

In 2011, I edited a pamphlet on women in science, engineering and technology, and following on from that we have developed in Sheffield a STEM strategy group. One initiative has been to give young people the chance to try some hands-on activities with teachers, having the opportunity to talk to university experts about what they can do to support girls into STEM subjects post-16.

Over the last few years, engagement with employers has improved enormously and they have been integral in developing the apprenticeship programme at the advanced manufacturing research centre. Many employers are active supporters of our new university technical college.

Encouraging girls and women into these areas is not enough if the culture in the workplace does not change. The Perkins review rightly contends that employers must do much more to support people returning to engineering following a career break. Adopting measures such as flexible working and better managed career breaks for maternity leave also benefits employers. For example, Mott MacDonald, an engineering firm in Sheffield, benefited when it allowed Cathy Travers, its most senior female engineer, to work during term time only when her children were young. That adaptability rewarded the firm with loyalty, and it retained a talented and experienced employee.

The best performing companies are often those with diversity high on their agenda. Organisations with a strong diversity and inclusion culture reduce average employee turnover by half, quadruple work force innovation and double customer engagement. The Perkins review tells us that to fuel the long-term pipeline for skilled engineers, we must ensure that all state-funded schools actively promote engineering as a career option for women, but we should not stop there. We need an environment in the engineering sector that welcomes women. Only when all our young people have the opportunity to realise their potential can we ensure that Britain develops the very best of tomorrow’s engineers.

Thank you for your forbearance with the interruptions. If no other Members wish to speak, I call Mr Iain Wright.

May I begin by saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard? It has been an excellent debate. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) and for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) and the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), who, like me, is a chartered accountant—there is nothing wrong with being a chartered accountant.

I particularly want to thank the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) for securing the debate and advancing his argument in a knowledgeable and refreshingly non-partisan way. I, for one, will be sorry to see him go. He will be missed in the House, and there is much more that he could do in this place to advance the need for more engineers in this country. He was an excellent Select Committee Chair and an excellent Minister. He will be sadly missed.

I also thank Professor John Perkins for his review. What is clear from today’s debate and from the review is the enormous opportunity that we have in this country. From an economic point of view, Britain will create wealth and raise its standards of living by concentrating on high skills and innovation, centred on science, technology, engineering and manufacturing. We have world-beating sectors in areas such as automotives and, as the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire said to me during the Division, we have the second biggest aerospace industry in the world and the biggest in Europe.

We have fantastic companies such as Rolls-Royce, Boeing and GKN Aerospace. I am particularly pleased that last week it was announced that Boeing will be using GKN as a supplier for its 737 winglet, which is displayed at the moment in the forecourt of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It is an excellent reiteration of how valuable that supply chain is.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and for his generous personal remarks. We also must not forget Airbus, which has given me so much encouragement in pursuing this agenda and which is one of the major contributors to making Britain the second biggest aerospace country in the world.

Absolutely. I was about to mention how important Airbus was as well. However, there are other sectors; we are not just wings and wheels. We have food and drink manufacturing—the biggest manufacturing sector in the country—as well as construction, life sciences, chemicals and great engineering in the energy sector. There is also a real ambition to have 10% of the global space industry by 2030. Those are all things that we will be using for our competitive advantage in the future.

In JCB, there is also one of the major construction equipment manufacturers in the world. Just last week, it announced 2,500 extra new jobs in Staffordshire, bringing some of its supply chain back to the UK. It is a privately owned company —a world-beating one at that—investing right here in the UK.

That is certainly something to be encouraged. I want to see how the supply chain of manufacturing can be enhanced to ensure that we can have that reshoring back to the UK as much as possible. We have the need for an economic, competitive edge, but we will also be trying to solve big social issues in the 21st century such as climate change, the transition to a low carbon economy, an ageing population and tackling resource scarcity for food, clean water and energy. All that requires engineering skills, so the ambition must be nothing short of making 21st-century Britain an engineering nation.

However, that enormous opportunity is not being matched with a commensurate supply of engineers coming on stream. As the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire said—I want to reiterate the figures, because they are striking—EngineeringUK states that the UK will need 87,000 people a year at level 4 over the next decade to meet demand, let alone to make sure that we can have expansion. However, the country has seen only about 51,000 and the number of level 3 engineering-related apprenticeships has actually dropped. We have an annual demand of about 69,000 but, as the hon. Gentleman said, the numbers are about a third of that and are falling.

Research by Matchtech in the past couple of weeks showed that three quarters of engineers lacked confidence in the Government’s action to encourage innovation in the UK—that is up from last year—and more than half said that they were willing to leave the UK and find work abroad. Despite the welcome news about economic statistics, 54% of engineers believe that the state of the British economy is negatively affecting the industry—up a full 10 percentage points on the previous year. There is an immediate and urgent need to do something about the issue.

There have been four broad themes today and I want to touch on those. Every speaker has mentioned the perception, image and culture of engineering, and they have been right to do so. Britain is the nation of James Watt, Richard Arkwright, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Frank Whittle, but I fear that this country does not value the status of engineers. It is deeply dispiriting that, when people are asked to name an engineer, the most recognisable in our country is Kevin Webster from “Coronation Street”. That sort of view reinforces stereotypes and prejudices that engineering and manufacturing are often literally backstreet, low skilled and low paid, rather than highly skilled, well paid and innovative.

In another context, I would be tempted to say, “He’s a popular beat combo, M’lud”, but I will not. In terms of the culture, perception and status of engineers, the issue is not the fault of this or previous Governments. Having said that, I absolutely agree with Sir John Parker, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, who said:

“I have travelled around in business and seen how other nations organise themselves and tilt policy in favour of their industrial base. At the highest level, an industrial strategy in my view is about giving the right signals to society that industrial activity is very important.”

What is the Minister going to do to help to change perceptions?

I acknowledge, as we have heard this afternoon, that such things as The Big Bang, Tomorrow’s Engineers, See Inside Manufacturing and the Bloodhound supersonic car are valuable initiatives to help change perceptions of engineering and inspire a new generation. However, there is more that can be done and it must be, as the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire said, high profile and sustained to overturn those long-held cultural perceptions. Will the Minister confirm that those initiatives will continue? What other plans does he have to alter the perception of engineering?

On a slightly more serious note, I was proud, with the parliamentary and scientific committee, to work with EngineeringUK to bring The Big Bang into Parliament this year. We intend that to be a continuing event to help improve the understanding of our parliamentary colleagues of the importance of engineering. Will both Front-Bench Members commit themselves to engage with that programme in future years?

I certainly would like to. My hon. Friend mentioned an important point. It should not be about this Government or this Parliament; it should be about looking at how Britain will make its money in the next 30 or 40 years. How can we transcend Parliament and Governments and work together for the long-term economic interests of the country to ensure that engineering has a proportionate status in our country?

Key to that, I would suggest, is ensuring that industrial strategy is at the heart of business policy. A moment ago, I mentioned Sir John’s comments that industrial strategy should give the right signals to society. I also suggest that a successful industrial strategy should give the right signals across Government. Business policy and engineering policy should not only reside in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but be aligned right across Whitehall for the purposes of advancing our country’s long-term economic interests.

However, I have to say—it has been hinted at strongly during today’s debate—that there is a lack of joined-up thinking between industrial strategy and education and skills policy. Schools are not encouraged to prioritise engineering and science, and there is a failure to ensure that engineering is considered at a sufficiently early stage in a child’s education. As a result, as we have heard, many pupils are disillusioned by the time they get to the age of 14 and do not continue science-based subjects that could lead to a career in engineering. Science GCSE has dropped from third place in 2012 to fourth this year; design and technology has slipped from sixth place to ninth.

This is a particular priority of mine. In many cases, teachers have had no experience of the modern engineering plant or factory and are therefore not in a position to encourage pupils to think about a career in engineering. I asked a parliamentary question a couple of weeks ago about the Government’s policy on encouraging industrial placements for teachers and I have to say that I received a woefully complacent answer from the Minister for Schools.

What will this Minister do to ensure that more teachers are made aware of the exciting opportunities available in industry and engineering, so that they can pass on information about those fantastic opportunities to their pupils and, importantly, to their pupils’ parents? Will the Minister ensure that time is made available in the school timetable to allow those industrial placements to take place?

The hon. Gentleman is making a very important point. Quite often, it is a matter of cost. Schools cannot release teachers for this kind of activity, because they cannot afford the cover required in the classroom. Sometimes it is a resource issue—particularly for schools in the poorest areas, which most need this kind of help.

I can agree with the hon. Gentleman in many respects, but this is such an important priority that I think that resources have to be made available. The question is how Government, industry and academia work together to do that. Perkins touches on it, but more needs to be done.

Everyone in the debate has mentioned careers guidance. It is woeful. The Select Committee on Education said in its recent report that what the Government have done with careers guidance is regrettable. I am not suggesting that before 2010 it was perfect—I speak as the Minister with responsibility for it before 2010—but the Government’s reforms to end face-to-face and impartial information, advice and guidance have seen investment in careers advice plummet and the service to many young people more or less evaporate.

The chances of people receiving good impartial advice about engineering at a sufficiently young age to make informed choices about what subjects to take next and how they can advance are as remote as ever. Will the Minister acknowledge that the Government have made a mistake on this one? What will he do to ensure that all pupils receive high-quality information, advice and guidance that includes, specifically, appropriate information on a career in engineering? Will he put in place an initiative to encourage work experience in industry—in engineering—and more effective collaboration between schools and businesses? That happens haphazardly. It does not happen in a consistent manner, but for the long-term economic interests of this country, it has to.

This, of course, is where Professor Perkins agrees with my Select Committee’s recommendations about continuing professional development. The simple reality is that people cannot teach about things or advise about careers that they do not have any knowledge of. We must create that space in the curriculum. If we do not, we will be failing these young people and failing British industry.

I agree. I think that that is incredibly important for our long-term economic interests.

I also want to touch on what the Government have done with their education reforms. Notwithstanding the welcome changes to the design and technology curriculum, which the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire had a hand in influencing, a lot of what the Government have done has reinforced the perception that engineering, particularly at vocational level, is somehow second rate.

The downgrading of the engineering diploma by the Secretary of State for Education was a colossal mistake. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that. The downgrading consolidates the perception that somehow engineering is second rate. The Royal Academy of Engineering has expressed concern that the attainment and accountability systems that schools are judged on favour a narrow set of academic qualifications over vocational and practical-based ones. Again, what will the Minister do to alter accountability systems to provide incentives for schools to prioritise engineering? They need to prioritise engineering.

The third point that I want to mention is gender. This has rightly been raised as a key issue in the debate. The lack of female engineers is a very important issue. Perkins stated that the UK has the lowest proportion of female engineers in the EU—barely one third of the number that Latvia has. Fewer than 10% of engineering professionals are women, and fewer than one in 30 of those starting an engineering apprenticeship are female.

There are great initiatives in place, such as ScienceGrrl, but the culture that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley mentioned is important. I was speaking at a round table of industrialists recently. I said, “You’re cutting off half your potential work force by not encouraging women into engineering. What are you doing about that?” They said, “Well, we provide them with their own toilets.” That is the sort of cultural issue on which we need to work together so as to advance, so what else can be done? We need to work together across Government, industry and education to enhance opportunities for all the population, not just half.

My fourth point is about deliverability. Perkins has 22 recommendations. The hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire said that there is an urgent need to have a marketing campaign. I think that we need to go further than that—we need delivery mechanisms. I would be very interested to hear how the Minister will ensure that every one of those recommendations can be implemented.

I will finish by reiterating my very warm thanks to the hon. Members who have contributed to the debate today and to Professor Perkins. The final words of his review are both telling and ambitious:

“There have been dozens of Government reports, select committees and independent reviews into the future of engineering skills over the past 150 years. I would go further. It is time for concerted action by the profession, industry and Government, to achieve the goals for engineering which we all share.”

The House has demonstrated today that it thinks that a key priority. I hope that we can transcend party politics and work together to make Britain an engineering nation.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard, and to respond to an extremely important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) and pay tribute to him, not only for bringing this matter to the attention of the House today and the excellent debate that we have had, but for his work over the last year or so in this area, which has been conducted at an impressive pace and with impressive vivacity. His tenacity in sticking to this agenda and driving it forward has been extremely valuable to me as a Minister, to the Government as a whole and, no doubt, to the future of engineering.

We have had a very positive debate, broadly speaking. I will come specifically in a moment to the implementation of all 22 recommendations in the Perkins review. I join other Members in paying tribute to John Perkins for the excellent work he has done and the considered and reasonable way in which he took forward the review, consulting extremely widely. The review has gone down very well in the engineering profession and beyond, and in the education establishment, which is important too. However, one of the most important things about the implementation of the review is that it is a review to be implemented by all, not just by Government. The Government have a very big role to play in doing that, and we will take forward all those recommendations that refer to the Government, but it is not a matter only for them. It is also necessary for the engineering profession to come together, and I will set out a couple of ways in which we plan to ensure that that happens.

Let me respond to a couple of specific questions that were raised. John Perkins did base his report on discussions with marketing and communication experts. He consulted people in the marketing world. Indeed, the argument that a marketing programme is needed and the recommendations that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire pointed to, which he thinks need strengthening, were based on discussions with marketing and communication professionals. I just wanted to put that on the record. On the point my hon. Friend made about the defence industries, the report chose to be cross-sector rather than sector-specific, so that is probably why there is not as much focus on the defence industries as he might have liked.

Let me deal with a couple of other specific points that were made. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) referred to the “Closing Doors” report, which is also an extremely important report. The Institute of Physics has produced a very good piece of work. The figures are stark. There are a record number of applications for and entries to GCSE physics by girls in 2013. There has been a 32% increase in GCSE entries for physics over the last three years, and there are a record 73,000 entries by girls. However, of those who get an A*, 49% of boys go on to study physics at A-level but only 19% of girls do so. There is a huge missed opportunity, which can be realised by changing the culture, as the hon. Lady has said, so that physics A-level is seen as a qualification for everybody. The record number taking GCSE is good news, but we must keep driving that progress up the age range so that we get a commensurate increase in A-levels and university applications from girls. We must ensure that the work done to increase applications at GCSE does not tail off.

The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) made a strong argument about cross-party agreement, which is rife, and the importance of the new 14 to 16-year-old engineering qualifications. I was at the Unilever headquarters in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency—

It must be next to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I join him in paying tribute to Matthew Harrison at the Royal Academy of Engineering for his excellent work in the area. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) argued in favour of improving the status and cultural position of engineers in our society. We should articulate as often as possible the point that pay for engineers is rising and that engineering is one of the most lucrative career options. To those who are considering what career to go into and who read Hansard—as I am sure they will—the message should go out loud and clear that engineering pays extremely well. If that is what they are after, why not look towards it?

The positive, cross-party approach taken by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) was exactly the right one. We are dealing with a long-standing problem, which has improved in the past few years but needs a long-term and cross-party solution. He listed all the sectors and areas in which engineering can do someone proud, and I will not repeat what he has said. I would, however, add computer science and the high-tech end, which is extremely exciting. Developments in that area are moving apace. I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman took a cross-party approach, because he came slightly unstuck when he tried to score a couple of political points. He said that there had been a decline in GCSE science, but that is because there has been a sharp rise in the number of people taking three sciences as separate subjects, which is a more rigorous approach to science. I would not use that statistic in future, if I were him.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley on the need for more inspirational careers advice from people who are passionate about their career. That is exactly the way we want to go. We all agree that Connexions did not fulfil that role particularly effectively, and the Government are passionate about getting inspirational people to motivate young people to take up careers in which they can do well.

I totally agree with the Minister on the importance of inspirational teachers. To help him avoid slipping into partisan language, does he agree that his comments about GCSE physics versus A-level physics underline the point that I have made several times during the debate about continuing professional development? Far too many young women who may be interested in science are encouraged to pursue medicine rather than focusing on physics and mathematics as the logical way forward, which will help them even if they do subsequently want to go into medicine.

There is a lot in what the hon. Gentleman says. The example of medicine is important for engineering, because 30 years ago medicine was almost entirely male dominated, but the culture was changed and the majority of those who go into medicine are now women. We need to have the same sort of cultural change in engineering, so medicine is a valid example. Not least as a result of the success of Tomorrow’s Engineers week, which the Government sponsor, the proportion of young people who say they would consider a career in engineering has risen by about 10%, and there has also been an increase in the proportion of parents who say they would like their children to consider a career in engineering.

I know that the Minister is not responsible for education, but he has mentioned parents, whose views on the matter are influential. What is being done to ensure that in schools primarily led by parents, such as free schools and academies, enough of this work is going on? Although my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston is correct about career development for teachers, we need parents to be on board too.

That is an important point, which is part of a wider culture change. As a Minister in the Department for Education I am also responsible for the education end of the subject, along with the other Ministers in that Department. On the question of having an impact on the need for engineers, applications to study engineering at university have increased by 20% over the past three years, and in the past year the number of people in engineering apprenticeships has increased by 10%. Things are moving in the right direction, but I do not deny that there is much more to do, hence the Perkins report.

We accept the Perkins report, and we will take forward all the Government actions within it. It is important to set it in a wider context, however. That starts at an early age with stronger computing in the national curriculum from the age of eight and more of an emphasis on maths, inspirational careers advice from 12 years old onwards, new engineering qualifications for those aged 14 to 16, the introduction of tech levels and the tech bacc for 16 to 19-year-olds, the increase in take-up of A-level physics that we have talked about—we need to do more work on that to improve the gender balance—and the increase in engineering degrees and apprenticeships, not only at level 2 and the technician end but all the way up through higher apprenticeships. Members will have heard the announcement in the autumn statement of an additional 20,000 higher apprenticeships focused on engineering and technology. Within the lifespan of education from primary school onwards there is a focus at every level on improving rigour, improving responsiveness to the needs of employers and increasing the proportion of students who go into science, technology, engineering and maths. It is in that context that the Perkins report sits.

I agree wholeheartedly on the need for better communication, and the engineering profession has come together in the realisation of the importance of communication during the past couple of years. I have had many discussions with the leaders of various engineering industries on the implementation of Perkins. There is enthusiasm for it and there are mechanisms for it, but we need to make sure that those continue. The Big Bang Fair, which came to Parliament, is funded by Government. That funding has helped it to inspire thousands, but there is undoubtedly much more that we can do.

Given the shortage of time, I will write to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire setting out in detail the Government response to all 22 of the recommendations, and I will make public a copy of the letter. I want to ensure that we drive the recommendations forward. I have no doubt that we will continue to debate the subject so that we can maintain the cross-party, cross-Government national campaign to ensure that the shortage of engineers is dealt with and the supply chain is wide open.

I applaud the Minister’s effort and his enthusiasm. When does he imagine that a Minister with responsibility for this area, from whichever party, will be from an engineering background?

As a former economist, I apologise for not fitting the criteria myself. But no doubt, with more engineers coming through, there will one day be the opportunity for that to happen.

I am not sure whether economics is social engineering, but thank you for the debate, Minister. Do you, Mr Luff, wish to say anything for 30 seconds?

I repeat my gratitude to all colleagues who took part in this important debate and to the Minister for his capable summing up. I look forward to the implementation plan with particular enthusiasm, because it is important, but I must emphasise that it is not something for simply the Government to implement; the engineering community has a responsibility as well, particularly with the marketing campaign, about which I spoke. The task is not just for the Government but the whole community.