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Engineers

Volume 592: debated on Thursday 12 February 2015

We are investing in engineering skills at every level in higher education through apprenticeships and in further education, but perhaps the most important initiative is the university technical college initiative. We have opened 30 university technical colleges and a further 27 are in the pre-opening phase.

As we know, we are going to have increasing demand for engineers nationally over the next few decades, and this will be no more acute than in Basildon and Thurrock. Will my hon. Friend therefore work with me to explore the possibility of establishing a university technical college in Basildon to meet our local needs and to encourage and enthuse young people to look at engineering as a valued career?

I would be delighted to do that. I know my hon. Friend has been leading the process of trying to set up a UTC in his constituency. I urge him to make contact with the excellent Baker Dearing Educational Trust, which developed the concept of the UTC and will provide invaluable advice on how to make sure that my hon. Friend submits a successful bid.

The Minister will know that the largest manufacturing industry in the country is food and drink, and that it has one of the biggest export potentials. Will he recognise that engineering disciplines that are ancillary to that industry also have enormous potential, whether it be agricultural engineering, food processing, food storage requirements or food transport? Will he look at technical education from the point of view of where the export potential is, particularly in the developing world?

Mr Speaker, thank you! You have slightly thrown me off my course.

I welcome what my hon. Friend has said, and I hope that he welcomes the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor when launching our long-term economic plan for the south-west, in which he encouraged a proposal to come forward for a university technical college specifically focused on agriculture and related industries. I hope that my hon. Friend will be involved in promoting that.

I apologise to the Minister, the full munificence of whose name I was simply seeking to capture for the edification of the House.

This year, China will produce something like 2 million graduates in engineering and engineering-related subjects. Engineering firms in my constituency tell me how difficult it is to recruit engineers, particularly female ones, and that when they train them up, they often lose them to larger firms. What can the Minister do to make sure we have a better join-up between business requirements and education so that engineers stay in this country and produce for our economy?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the desperate need for more engineers, but we have been making good progress. Since 2010, the number of people starting an engineering-related apprenticeship has gone up by 52%, and since 2013 the number of people starting an engineering degree has risen by 6.5 %. If we can get a better supply coming through the pipe, companies will be less inclined to poach from each other and will actually invest in developing the talent themselves through an apprenticeship.