Skills gaps in the manufacturing industry could be improved if the City stopped poaching the best engineering and science graduates, the chairman of BAE Systems has said.
Dick Olver told the Telegraph: “We need more of the very good engineering graduates to go into engineering rather than the financial services.”
But he added the current financial crisis could help to reverse the trend and persuade the best graduates to consider engineering instead.
Olver also warned the government had to act quickly if it wanted schools and universities to produce enough students with the qualifications needed to keep Britain competitive.
He said Britain needs to produce at least 25,000 engineering graduates a year to meet the estimated requirement of 970,000 engineers in Britain by 2017.
But he warned that perceptions of manufacturing were a big problem.
“We haven’t done a good enough job of explaining just how exciting a career in science and engineering can be,” he said. “Young people are always using the things technology produces like Xboxes and iPods and they think it’s great. Engineers made those things happen, and the link hasn’t been made.”
There was also a lack of high-profile role models in the industry, the chairman of Britain’s largest manufacturing company said.
To address this, Olver did not rule out an Apprentice-style programme to find top engineers and scientists.
“We need to raise the status of the profession in this country to the same as is enjoyed in parts of Europe and the US,” he added.