In his Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne announced an extra £40 million to help increase the number of young people beginning higher apprenticeships. The figures are good news for the engineering industry - which Osborne previously claimed would experience an increase of 30% in apprenticeship applications and, subsequently, a rise in employees taking permanent engineering jobs. The chancellor wants the engineering industry to build on this level of support and, by 2020, have the UK producing double the number of engineers it currently does.
The funding increase, effective for apprenticeships starting in 2013-14 and 2014-15, will see an extra 20,000 people able to enter training. The initiative is part of a wider government focus on education, especially in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths).
Britain's need for engineers
Dr David Brown, of the Institute of Chemical Engineers, welcomed the Chancellor's announcement as "another positive step in the right direction", but pointed out the importance of sustaining the effort into the future - when Britain will need skilled workers to take up engineering jobs:
"For engineering alone, it is estimated that the UK will need around 87,000 graduate level engineers per year over the next ten years," said Dr Brown. "In 2013 we only expect to produce around 50,000. In addition we have a major shortfall in the 69,000 apprenticeships needed by industry each year."
What is an apprenticeship?
Apprenticeships are a way to help young people take their first steps on a path into a successful career, receiving a wage, academic training and essential hands-on industry experience from their employer as they work.
From an employer's perspective, apprenticeships are an opportunity to train and develop a new generation of skilled workers to benefit their industry long into the future. Three levels of apprenticeship - Intermediate, Advanced and Higher - each translate to a different level of academic qualification: Higher Apprenticeships, on which the Chancellor's initiative focuses, offer the equivalent of an NVQ Level 4.
The government's funding increase will give engineering industry employers the security and confidence to take on new apprentices and meet the demand for skilled industry workers which Dr Brown says is increasing. The Chancellor's funding increase is intended to put employers "at the heart of the system", with apprentices helping to fill gaps in the workforce, bolstering their company's bottom line and even attracting other skilled employees.
For students and prospective apprentices hoping to break into the engineering industry, the funding initiative accompanies a wider effort to bring the UK's workforce back into global competition. With this in mind, the training curriculum for engineering courses in colleges and higher education establishments is also being overhauled as a way of helping students compete with overseas institutions.
The Chancellor's overall message is positive and marks what could be an exciting period for Britain's engineers and engineering industry - with young people becoming inspired to take roles in anything from aeronautics and automotives, to the textile, food, and furniture industries.
"Young people need to be inspired and aspire to become world-class engineers," Dr Brown said, urging the government not to become complacent in its support for STEM disciplines. "This cannot be achieved without sponsorship, placements and engagement with young people and the education sector."
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