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Spring Budget 2017: an engineering perspective
In the first of two Budget statements this year, the next of which will replace the usual Autumn Statement in October/November time, Chancellor Philip Hammond updated the nation on the Government’s spending plans over the course of the current Parliament.
Here are the key headlines for the engineering industry:
Local transport links get £690 million investment
Following the Chancellor’s promise in the autumn to commit significant additional funding to “keep Britain moving now”, in the budget, he confirmed details of the government’s plans to improve the UK’s road networks. Funding will go towards:
• Improving the A483 corridor in Cheshire
• Major maintenance of the Leicester Outer Ring Road
• New roundabout at Hales in Norfolk
A further £220 million will be set aside for improving congestion on the national road network, £90 million of which will be allocated to the North of England and £23 million of which will be spent in the Midlands.
These road improvement schemes will rely on the skills of foremen, supervisors, agents, project managers, planners, quantity surveyors and engineers.
Support to develop better batteries for electric vehicles
As part of a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), £270 million will go towards the development of technologies which have the potential to positively enhance air quality, aid advancements in energy production and improve public health. Part of this fund will stimulate the already thriving electric vehicle market, through the design and manufacture of batteries that will power the next generation of EVs and help reduce air pollution. Battery specialists, software and power electronics engineers will be particularly sought after to drive EV advancements forward.
On the subject of air quality, the Budget statement proposes that the government will consult on a plan of action to achieve the UK’s air quality ambitions. Just this week, the BBC covered a report on air pollution in Bath, South West England, which found seriously high levels of nitrogen dioxide on a particularly busy road and recorded readings of the harmful substance as high as those in China’s capital.
Backing for Robotics and A.I in energy production
A chunk of the ISCF will be used to develop innovative artificial intelligence and robotics systems that can operate in extreme and hazardous conditions. The money will assist in the research undertaken by universities and businesses and is expected to help progress developments within offshore and nuclear energy, as well deep mining and even space exploration.
£300 million for new academic research placements
Ahead of Britain’s formal exit from the EU, the Government is setting aside funding to help build a pipeline of talented researchers to help drive innovation in science and research.
Out of the £300 million, over two thirds will create new fellowships, including programmes to attract top global talent and £90 million will provide 1,000 PhD placements – 85% of which will be in STEM disciplines.
More than £500 million pledged to technical education of 16-19 year olds
From autumn 2019, new ‘T-levels’ will be introduced as an education route for 16-19 year olds. Currently, students have a bamboozling choice of 13,000 technical courses to choose from. These will be whittled down to 15 T-level training routes which are specific to different industries, including engineering and manufacturing.
Making education more relevant for careers in industry is something which is seen as crucial in addressing the skills shortage within engineering. In fact, more than 10% of engineering professionals see changing the syllabus to make engineering skills fit for purpose as the single most important factor in tackling the skills shortage, according to our Voice of the Workforce research. Another factor which was seen as important was retraining and upskilling current workers. The Government seems to agree, having committed tens of millions for enhancing the expertise within the current workforce.
Up to £40 million on retraining and upskilling
As well as budgeting funds for the technical training of young people yet to enter the world of work, the Government also promised to spend up to £40 million by 2018-19 on helping the existing workforce retrain and upskill.
Based on the views of more than 2,500 engineering professionals, our recent Voice of the Workforce research demonstrated a real willingness within the industry to learn new skills. 56% of engineering professionals said they would consider transferring to a different skill set, with the most popular choice being project and programme management. The engineers we surveyed also expressed a desire to transfer into more technology-led skill sets like software engineering and automation. The main motivation for changing skill sets was to have more interesting projects and work, as cited by 55% of respondents.
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