Today’s publication of the government’s industrial strategy white paper, Building a Britain fit for the future, recognises the importance of collaboration between industry, academia and government to help develop the industries of the future.

Grand Challenges

A focus on the four grand challenges of artificial intelligence and big data, clean growth, the future of mobility and meeting the needs of an ageing society is welcome. Each of these areas has the potential to capitalise on the UK’s existing expertise and proven success on a global scale. At the same time, the principles of openness and flexibility, and the development of local industrial strategies are welcome foundations of a long-term approach that is based on sound evidence and can respond as necessary to the varied needs of industry and society across the UK. The introduction of an independent Industrial Strategy Council is a positive step, and we look forward to further information about how this will be implemented to ensure rapid progress against the white paper’s ambitions.  

Digitalisation and skills

Industrial digitalisation is a massive opportunity for UK industry and the white paper promises much-needed support for enhancing digital skills at all levels. For example, the £20m Cyber Discovery programme – a four-year study programme for the next generation of cybersecurity professionals – aims to reach up to 6,000 participants by 2021. The ability of UK engineers to be confident and competent to a high level in digital skills will be pivotal to securing our competitiveness across a range of sectors.

An increase in the volume and quality of STEM skills more broadly is absolutely essential to addressing the well-established skills shortage in engineering. The strategy rightly emphasises that jobs in science, research, engineering and technology are expected to rise at double the rate of other occupations between now and 2023 and the majority of jobs on the Home Office Shortage Occupation List are in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related roles. The investments announced go some way to addressing this need, including an extra £20 million for further education colleges to prepare for T-Levels and investment in a national retraining partnership between the CBI, TUC and government.

Improving diversity and inclusion in the engineering sector is vital to solving this skills crisis: only 9% of UK engineers are women and only 6% are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. It is therefore good to see an explicit focus on underrepresented groups and women in some of the measures proposed, including that the new Office for Students will require universities to publish student participation and progression data by gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background. 

Sector deals

The sector deals announced today provide a much-needed signal to business that government is committed to providing a stable policy framework for key sectors and technologies. However, government must recognise that smaller or emerging sectors, especially those with large numbers of start-ups and without corporate champions, may find it harder to emulate the success of well-established sectors. Including these smaller sectors will be essential to the UK achieving its aim of leading the world in innovative and emerging technologies. 

Professor Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says:

“Today’s publication of the government’s Industrial Strategy white paper represents an important step towards positioning the UK as an outward-looking leading trading nation, and a top destination for inward investment and international talent. Engineering is a vital part of this country’s economy, contributing over 20% of gross value added and accounting for half our exports so engineering will be absolutely critical to delivering the outcomes sought by the industrial strategy. Now is the time to ramp up investment, particularly in digital skills, to ready the workforce for the next technological age, and the engineering community stands ready to support this process.”

Notes for Editors

  1. The Academy’s view reflects the evidence collected through a collaboration of all 38 UK professional engineering organisations, representing over 450,000 engineers, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering, enabled by an unprecedented level of engagement by the engineering community. The resulting report, Engineering an economy that works for all, formed a joint submission to the industrial strategy green paper consultation. Our team gathered evidence and opinion from engineers across the country through a series of 10 workshops and a survey of the profession that received nearly 1,300 responses.
  2. Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

We have four strategic challenges:

- Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation

- Address the engineering skills crisis

- Position engineering at the heart of society

- Lead the profession

For more information please contact:

Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering

T: 020 7766 0636

E:  Jane Sutton