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Employment: Science and Technology

Volume 740: debated on Tuesday 20 November 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to encourage young people to pursue careers in the science and technology based industries, and in manufacturing.

My Lords, the Government have a range of activities aimed at encouraging young people into science and technology careers. This includes funding the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics Ambassadors programme and the finals of the National Science and Engineering Competition at the Big Bang Fair. We also support the Careers Profession Alliance to improve training for careers professionals to ensure that young people have access to high-quality guidance.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. There is still a very big issue here when it comes to young people and careers advice and guidance. Does the Minister agree that we should have far more face-to-face help for young people? Many need encouraging to go into manufacturing and technology. Would he agree that this Government need to emphasise this face to face, rather than by looking at computers?

I naturally agree with the noble Lord that face-to-face careers advice is very important. That is why we have started the careers advice programme and why we have these ambassadors throughout the country. However, we have to start at the very bottom. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking, who started the university technical colleges, 50 of which are about to be rolled out in the next five years. It is an incredibly exciting new endeavour, focusing particularly on skills from the engineering and mechanical training point of view, which has not been done for many years.

My Lords, is it not ironic that at a time of such high unemployment, and we in Wales have the highest level of youth unemployment of any country in Britain, many of our manufacturing concerns have to look overseas to recruit people with science and technology capabilities, whereas so many of our own graduates and others with science skills are enticed away from industry into financial institutions in the City and elsewhere? What do the Government have in mind in order to try and ensure that there is adequate information available for young people and, indeed, that enough young people go into science and technology in order to meet the demands?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. That is why we have commissioned the Perkins review to look at this, which will be reporting towards the end of this year. We will publish the review in December. We have a significant undersupply in this particular area, as the noble Lord has rightly said. I am looking forward to seeing the recommendations in the Perkins review, which we will take very seriously. However, we are doing a number of other things. We have See Inside Manufacturing, which allows schools to go into manufacturing. As I said earlier, we have the STEM ambassadors—for example, Rolls-Royce has 580 ambassadors going out and encouraging people to come into manufacturing, and British Aerospace has 500. The National Careers Service will help people under 18 through our Directgov website. This is a critical point, though, and I acknowledge it.

I thank the Minister for mentioning the technical colleges. Is he aware that only a fortnight ago the Royal Academy of Engineering said that our country will be short of 100,000 qualified engineers by 2020 and a million technicians? The only educational institutions in our country that are seeking to fill this gap are the university technology colleges, which I am glad to say have all-party support. They are employer-led, university-supported colleges for 14 to 18 year-olds. Will he do everything he can to ensure that we have more than the 33 that have been approved and the 20 that are applying? We need several hundred of these.

There is no doubt about it; the noble Lord is completely right. We are scratching at the surface. We will probably end up, with the current budget, with 30,000 people at the marvellous UTCs. It is a new project that the noble Lord is starting with great energy, if I may say so. It has full support from this House and, indeed, the Government.

Would it not be a good idea to revise the WISE campaign—women into science and engineering—with which the EOC had considerable success many years ago? If we could get the WISE campaign reorganised, it is quite possible that we would have some assistance from the TUC because it would certainly be interested in increasing the number of women interested in science and technology.

The noble Baroness quite rightly says that there is an undersupply of women in engineering and, particularly, in manufacturing. I talk to my daughters and they all seem to want to go into fashion, which probably means that they have an alternative career. It is important that we get women into these areas, and there is no barrier to entry for women getting into them. We must encourage them, as we must in all areas.

My Lords, what consultations have the Government held with the engineering institutions on how to encourage more young people into engineering?

Naturally, we have been talking with the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society on this issue. We are having a very keen dialogue with them.

My Lords, we welcome the efforts of the university technical colleges, careers advisory and others, but what we really need for young people is more apprenticeships. That has to be the focus. I have looked at the figures in this area, and they are rising but slightly. There is one area where the Government could make a positive contribution, and that is in public procurement contracts. We still have a Government who will not insist that, every time a public procurement contract is let, those who get it have to indicate how many apprentices they will take on. Will the Minister explain why the Government will not move on this issue? After all, this would be a case of them leading by example.

We have inherited a scheme that carries that out. Obviously, we are going to look at it because this Government’s single aim is to get people back into manufacturing and work. Indeed, this morning we announced an increase in the employer ownership pilot grant to £150 million. We are encouraging businesses to upskill and invest in R&D. The Government have committed £150 million to it. There is a range of things that we are doing to improve the workforce and to diversify our country back from a financial service centre to a broader base, but that takes time; it does not happen overnight.