Migrants are filling a fifth of jobs in key industries because of a lack of skilled British graduates, according to a Government-backed report.
Companies are forced to rely on foreign-born workers in a range of “strategically important” areas as children continue to shun maths and science subjects at school.
In all, migrants account for 20 per cent of workers in fields such as oil and gas extraction, aerospace manufacturing and computer, electronic and optical engineering.
The report warns that half of the 119 occupations featured on the Government’s “shortage occupation list” – which gives firms special dispensation to employ overseas staff – require engineering skills.
Another 20 per cent involve scientific and technical roles.
The shortage is so acute that universities are also filling courses with overseas applicants, with a third of places in engineering and technology subjects taken by non-British students, the report states.
The review, published by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills today , calls for drastic action to meet the “substantial demand” for engineers.
In response, the Government insisted it was making almost £49 million in funding available to raise engineering skills.
Last week David Cameron urged Britain to “say no” to Eastern European workers by improving the
education system and helping young people compete with immigrants
Figures published this year by the Office for National Statistics indicated that the number of foreign-born people finding jobs in the UK had increased by 225,000 to 4.26 million in a year, compared with a rise of just 192,000 British-born workers.
Business leaders have repeatedly warned of a severe shortage of British graduates qualified to fill engineering jobs, with Sir James Dyson, the inventor and entrepreneur, warning last year that up to 217,000 engineers would be needed within five years to plug gaps in the workforce.
Today’s report by Prof John Perkins, chief scientific adviser to the Department for Business, says more must be done to encourage British schoolchildren – particularly girls – to take qualifications that will lead to jobs in engineering.
It warns that there is a crippling shortage of skilled British workers despite the fact that almost a million 16 to 24-year-olds are currently without a job or education place.
“We owe it to our young people to equip them with the skills, including engineering skills, that British industry and the British economy needs now and will need in the future, and which can offer as many of them as possible rewarding and satisfying long-term careers,” the report says.
The report outlines the extent to which Britain depends on foreign workers to prop up key industries.
It says Britain “currently relies on inward migration for engineering skills”, adding “immigrants account for 20 per cent of professionals in strategically important sectors”.
The report cites the UK Border Agency’s Tier 2 shortage occupation list, which names those occupations where there are not enough resident workers to fill available jobs.
“The shortage occupation list reflects the extent to which the on-going increase in demand for specialist engineering skills outstrips the potential supply in the short term: engineering jobs dominate the list, accounting for half of the 119 job titles, with a further 20 per cent in closely related scientific and technical areas,” it says.
The report welcomes the fact that the Government allows employers to import engineers from overseas in key areas where there are shortages but insists this “should not be our long-term solution”.
The report adds: “Many employers have been forced to look overseas for workers with the expertise and experience needed to sustain their businesses and it is clear that migration will continue to be an important source of engineering skills for some time to come.
“But it is up to us, together, to ensure that the right skills become readily available to employers at home, and that they are no longer obliged to look further afield” for the workers they need.
The conclusions follow concerns that too many pupils have been pushed on to “soft” subjects such as media studies to boost school league table rankings.
It is feared that large numbers of girls have been put off careers in the field by stereotypical views about female vocations. Currently, fewer than one in 10 people working in engineering in Britain are women, less than any other European nation, the study adds.
In the short term, it recommends that those who have left the profession should be encouraged to return. Others who may have studied related subjects could be helped to “convert” by take a degree in engineering, the report says.
In response, the Government today announces a £30 million fund for employers to train staff and an £18 million investment in a new elite training facility at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry.
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said: “Engineering has a vital role to play in the future of UK Industry.
“It is important that we act now to ensure businesses have access to the skills they require to enable them to grow. We cannot do this alone so I am calling on employers and education professionals to get involved and inspire the next generation of engineers.”
See on www.telegraph.co.uk