Most Engineering graduates don’t go where you’d think…
New SKOPE Research Paper raises serious questions about current skills policy on STEM
SKOPE Fellow Dr. Matthew Dixon, an expert on IT and Engineering skills, has probed the evidence on where Engineering graduates have gone to work as the first step in their career. His analysis of data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, published as SKOPE Research Paper No. 122, examines in particular the question of how high a fraction of the UK’s engineering graduates use, in their first job, the “human capital” they have acquired in understanding the body of knowledge in their Engineering discipline, by going into industry sectors that need that technical understanding, and in particular into relevant UK manufacturing companies.
Although the fact that graduates with vocational degrees (e.g. in Medicine, the Law, Accountancy, Engineering) don’t always go on after graduation to work in the relevant field or company is understood, it is understandable that the prevailing assumption is that most do. The evidence of ‘graduate first destinations’ from UK universities since 2002/3 shows that, for Engineering graduates in the various key disciplines (e.g. Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Naval Architecture), it is a minority who go on to work in relevant manufacturing sectors, and in some cases, less than 10%!
Not surprisingly, this has significant implications both for public policy on Engineering skills, and for the Sectors involved. In particular, it is natural that sectors with an eye to the future supply of their key technical skills look in particular to the relevant ‘pipeline’: graduates from the degree courses on the relevant Engineering discipline. So, companies and leading figures in the Chemical and Chemical Product Manufacturing-, Electrical Equipment Manufacturing-, and Computer, Electronic and Optical product Manufacturing- industries focus on the supply of graduates from Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Electronic Engineering courses respectively. However, for every 100 students graduating from these courses, fewer than 10 have – over recent years – gone on to work in these sectors after graduation. Thus, unless something changes significantly, simply trying to get more (young) people to sign up for these courses will have an almost negligible effect on future supply into those industries.
In principle such a strategy would be very wasteful, and – even if there were a national industrial strategy involving support for these sectors – it would seem more effective to work to improve the attractiveness of the sectors to young graduates from the relevant disciplines. Even if companies in these sectors had problems recruiting such graduates (for which there is no significant evidence – inter alia, non-trivial unemployment continues for these graduates), the task is rather to find a way of getting more of the relevant new graduates leaving university to apply for jobs in these manufacturing sectors.
The paper explores this evidence and its implications in some detail, examining also the question of such employers offering higher starting salaries, and clarifies certain realities of ‘leadership within sectors’ that limit the effectiveness of a ‘sectoral response’. It concludes by pointing out the likely even greater scale of ‘leakage’ of graduates from STEM courses more generally, which, in the light of already-published analysis, and recent assessment of this issue in the United States, suggests that a pre-occupation with STEM in UK skills policy is far from justified or likely to be effective.