Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance

Engineering graduate first jobs and Workforce-planning Policies

Evidence over ten years from the Higher Education Statistics Agency has already confirmed (see SKOPE Research Paper 122) that most (first degree) graduates of specific Engineering discipline courses from UK universities do not then go on to work in the ‘natural’ Manufacturing sector corresponding to the discipline.  In all cases the fraction who do go into the sector that would be expected is less than 50%, and in some cases less than 10%.  As well as being surprising to most analysts, this evidence confirms that any workforce-planning policy responses to reports of skill shortages in these sectors that might involve seeking more (young) people to ‘sign up’ for such courses would be even less effective than already recognised.

This second paper from SKOPE Visiting Research Fellow Dr. Matthew Dixon, an Associate of the Engineering Council with more than 20 years direct experience in IT and Engineering skills policy, tests the robustness of the above conclusions by investigating three related questions:

  • Does the ‘leakage’ of such graduates from the Manufacturing sectors that would be expected reduce several years after they enter their initial job?;
  • Could the ‘leakage’ be attributed to other sectors paying more than the ‘natural’ sector?; and
  • Is the ‘leakage’ from the equivalent disciplinary Taught Masters courses noticeably less that that from First Degree courses?

Interestingly, the short answer to all three questions is essentially, no.

The new paper “Engineering graduates for UK Manufacturing: further confirmation of the evident minimal impact of possible workforce planning policy responses to sectoral shortage reports” also considers the implication of this kind of ‘leakage’ on the supply and demand of graduates of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses more broadly, and so on public policy thinking on STEM Higher Education.  In responding to statements in the January 2017 Government Industrial Strategy Green Paper, SKOPE Research Paper 125 points to comprehensive recent evidence from the USA and from focused UKCES-commissioned research as well as from a thorough assessment for the European Commission that confirms the absence of shortage of STEM graduates and higher-level STEM skills.

To promote STEM subjects within Higher Education – at the expense of others – in the face of this evidence is therefore to apply the discredited paradigm of over-simplistic workforce-planning across a huge breadth of knowledge, in spite of the growing evidence that, even in much more specific technical fields like individual engineering disciplines, the (cost) effectiveness of such policies is very low.

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