Motivation more important than qualifications, says minister

It's time to address the 'remarkable focus on the academic' in order to attract more engineers, says Nusrat Ghani

Julia Belgutay

Transport minister Nusrat Ghani calls for more diverse candidates to engineering

The UK’s skills shortage in engineering should lead to the focus moving away from qualifications like GCSEs and A levels in favour of offering opportunities for “the right” young people, a transport minister has said.

Speaking to Tes about 2018 as the Year of Engineering, transport minister Nusrat Ghani said there had been “a remarkable focus on the academic for quite some time and I would hope that, because we need engineers, we would re-address that”.

She added that some engineering companies were prioritising characteristics such as motivation and drive over formal qualifications when deciding which young people to take on.

More on this: Grayling: 'Lots of apprentices' needed to address engineering skills gap

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Motivation and drive

“I can’t speak for the Department for Education, but I can give my thoughts, having had a lot of engagements with companies," Ms Ghani said. "The businesses I speak with are very clear on what the skills are they need, and on the fact that they can teach those skills to the right young person.”

“Maths and English are very important, but I am meeting a lot of companies who are saying if you can get the right people with the right motivation who are keen to learn, they can do that.”

Up-skilling motivated learners

“For a lot of apprenticeships, they are not just focused on academic qualifications. It is about the motivation of that young person. They need to be keen to come in and skill up.”

Offering “quality apprenticeships” was key, she said, adding that the new T-level qualifications, due to be taught from next year, would also offer an opportunity. “If you are going to focus on building for our country, we have to focus on how we can push that as a viable route going forward.”

Ms Ghani acknowledged the need for more diversity in engineering, where both women and people from minority ethnic backgrounds are under-represented. “We just need more people thinking about engineering as a career – whether you are coming from a working-class background, or a minority ethnic background or whether you are a woman. It is about getting across to young people that this is a career for them. We desperately need more engineers.”

Boosting awareness

The Year of Engineering aimed to boost awareness of career opportunities in engineering among young people. Ms Ghani said the initiative, run by the Department for Transport, had been a success.

“We had a really ambitious target that we were going to deliver 1 million engagements with young people – 1,500 businesses partnered up with us to deliver engineering projects across the country, and we deliver over five million direct experiences.

“So the numbers are big, but for me, it is about what does that mean? We reached five times as many young people as we set out to, but are we going to get more young people into engineering?”

The Year of Engineering was “only the start”, she explained. “We really need those young people, their parents and teachers to constantly think of this as a career for them. We need to follow this through over time.”

The department will next week launch its new "eco innovators" competition, inviting students aged 7-19 to submit innovative designs for public electric vehicle chargepoints. 

The Year of Engineering in figures

  • Pupils’ desire to be an engineer when they are older increased by 35 per cent among 7- to 11-year-olds.
  • Understanding of engineering careers increased by 34 per cent among parents, and by 23 per cent among 11- to 16-year-olds.
  • Confidence about giving advice on a career in engineering increased from 7 to 18 per cent among teachers of pupils aged 7-11, and from 58 to 64 per cent among teachers of pupils aged 11-16.
  • There was a 50 per cent increase in the number of engineering Stem Ambassadors during 2018.
  • 7,100 lesson plans were downloaded from the Year of Engineering website.

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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