Engineers urge access to innovation and skills post-Brext


A new report compiled by a group of the UK's engineering bodies, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering, is urging government to maintain the UK's access to innovation and skills as it negotiates and navigates towards Brexit in 2019.

The report, 'Engineering a future outside the EU', has been compiled by institutions representing 450,000 engineers and results from consultation with professionals from academia, industry and the public sector. With engineering contributing at least £280 billion in gross value added to the economy – 20% of the total – the report aims to inform government of the key issues that impact on the UK’s engineering performance as it forms its position on leaving the EU.

The report welcomes the government’s renewed focus on industrial strategy, but warns that Brexit must not restrict access to engineering skills from Europe. In academia, engineering has proportionally more staff originating from the EU (15%), than across all subjects as a whole. The report also highlights that innovation is critical to the UK’s economy and productivity, as sectors with high concentrations of graduate engineers report above average levels of innovation related income and activity.

The President of the RAE, professor Dame Ann Dowling, said: “Engineering makes an enormous contribution to economic and social progress in the UK, and we have heard from a significant cross-section of the engineering profession that leaving the EU poses a real challenge to this contribution.

“For many we have consulted, plans to trigger Article 50 raise questions about our ability to train enough skilled engineers to meet the country’s needs, to attract talent to the UK to address specific skills shortages, and to collaborate with colleagues in EU countries in a way that accelerates vital innovation.

"As government develops its plans for a renewed focus on industrial strategy, we hope it will use this opportunity to build on the UK’s existing strengths in engineering research and innovation and industry to to invest in increasing the supply of skilled engineers necessary to sustain this growth."

The report emphasises that uncertainty about the status of EU workers in the UK and further risks to the supply of skilled engineers are likely to result in delays to major infrastructure projects such as HS2, Thames Tideway and Hinkley Point C. These projects will face recruitment difficulties and increasing costs if demand for labour outstrips supply, the report says.

A shortage occupation list must be drawn up for engineering positions that cannot be filled domestically in the short term, it says. The report also advocates straightforward solutions such as temporary visas for engineers from EU countries with the specialist skills that the UK lacks.

The report warns that Brexit poses a serious risk to UK research and innovation, if it loses access to EU funding. Evidence suggests that EU collaboration with UK researchers has already been scaled back or put on hold, the report says. It recommends that government seeks the closest achievable association with relevant EU programmes, and develops long-term funding to encourage international collaboration between industry and academia. 

The full report and an executive summary of its findings are available to download at .