It’s the engineering conundrum, stupid11 March 2015

As election fever (or torture, depending on your political outlook) starts to take hold, politicians and pressure groups are already piling on the pressure to persuade the populous and each other to their ways of thinking.

We may not witness oratory at its best. We might expect more than a pinch of cynical self interest. And we will surely snigger at those memory lapses. But, like the process or hate it, whoever holds the reins of power after 7 May will influence our lives for many years to come.

So it's instructive to listen, and consider not only how their arguments reflect the reality we know, but also perhaps their implications – and what is wheat, and how much mere chaff.

Consider, for example, the APMG's (All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group) manifesto, which urges any future government to ensure that the UK becomes "a global leader in manufacturing markets". Few would challenge that. And fewer still might contradict their top recommendations, which include encouraging STEM-related apprenticeships and simplifying support schemes.

However, the truth is that such calls – and the imperative to improve the perception of industry – are nothing new. And, to be fair to the coalition, significant sums backed by worthy attention are slowly turning the tide. So, sure, APMG is right, but these are no more than bland restatements of the obvious for the already converted.

What matters today is acknowledging the sheer scale of the current challenge – as outlined in EngineeringUK's recent report 'The State of Engineering' – and then articulating how we might go about doubling the number of apprentices and graduates entering industry this year and every year for the foreseeable future.

Make no mistake: if EngineeringUK's analysis is correct, then the shortfall of engineers coming out of our universities, colleges and training academies will soon be so profound that the UK's sacred cow – rebalancing the economy in favour of wealth-generating manufacturing exports – may not just grind to a halt, but slide into reverse.

So, yes, clearly the wellbeing of the NHS, our education system, the police, the UK's defence capability and the rest remain important, and we must satisfy ourselves that any future government will live up to society's requirements. But, given the pivotal nature of engineers and engineering to our GDP (gross domestic product) – the engine that pays for much of that – we'd better be certain it also has robust answers and ring-fenced budget to deliver an exponential expansion programme.

And here's another thought. As David Cameron often puts it: "We're all in this together." So we need to do our bit, too. Why not encourage engineering students and apprentices you know to sign up for the Society of Operations Engineers' free membership scheme? Get people involved: they may surprise and delight us all.

Brian Tinham

This material is protected by MA Business copyright
See Terms and Conditions.
One-off usage is permitted but bulk copying is not.
For multiple copies contact the sales team.