Peter Finegold, Head of Education & Skills at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers

Twelve Institutes of Technology will be set up across the country to boost young people’s skills and set them on a clear path to a high skilled, high wage career, Education Secretary Damian Hinds has announced today (10 April 2019).

We welcome the announcement of the successful bids to run the first 12 Institutes of Technology – any initiative that brings together universities, FE colleges and employers to deliver higher level STEM subject training is a positive step.

The crucial measure of their success will be if the persistent engineering skills gap that has challenged employers is shown to diminish – especially in highly skilled technical roles.

However, despite the Prime Minister’s assurance that these Institutes will end outdated perceptions that lead to a bias in this country against vocational skills and in favour of academic skills, the establishing of these important facilities cannot solve these deeply rooted cultural prejudices alone.

They must be symbolic of a changing relationship between the academic and technical that better reflects the nature of our modern technological world. 

While the government should  be commended on this latest example of a raft of policies supporting ‘vocational’ training such as apprenticeships, technical training and T-levels, the existence of the Institutes of Technology alone will not provide the ‘escape velocity’ to combat the powerful gravitational pull of A-levels-to-university in the eyes of young people, their teachers and  their parents.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has previously called for a UK-wide expert working group to explore innovative ways of better integrating engineering into young people’s broader education, particularly in our report “We think it’s important but don’t quite know what it is: The culture of engineering in schools.” 

As part of its remit, we would see this group taking on board the views recently expressed by former Education Minister and Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP, highlighting that the 21st century requires an education that recognises both academic and technical skills - along with a young person’s personal development.

Peter Finegold, Head of Education & Skills at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers

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