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We Can't Build the UK's Economic Recovery Without Investing in UK Engineering

04/05/2015 09:50 BST | Updated 30/06/2015 10:59 BST

New York's former governor Mario Cuomo once famously said: "you campaign in poetry, you govern in prose." At the time he was highlighting that the rhetoric of the election campaign is often lost in the reality of office.

Said back in 1985, Cuomo's famous quote is still relevant today as we approach the most closely fought UK General Election in a generation. Many commentators have stated that the manifestos we have seen from the political parties are a mere starting point - with the policies adopted in Government likely to change if, as expected, we see another coalition emerge with the inevitable negotiations around which policies will be championed and axed.

However, while the manifestos maybe a starting point they do represent an important line in the sand, they show intention and political will, which makes it all the more baffling that none of the parties have set out a clear policy direction to support the UK engineering industry.

This isn't just a side argument. We have heard much over the past five years about the need to enable a 'march of the makers' and to rebalance the economy. Calls that all parties have echoed.

Yet when it came to the 2015 manifestos none of the parties have committed support to the UK's engineering and manufacturing industry - despite the significant contribution it has made to our recovery.

While all parties are currently stressing their economic competence and ability to sustain recovery they cannot hope to do so without supporting engineering, an industry which remains one of the UK's greatest economic success stories.

While engineering has been at the heart of the recovery, there is now a serious, and widely recognised, skills gap that has to be addressed if the UK is to maintain its global leadership. As a result the fact that no political parties have policies for engineering in their manifestos, is, in my opinion, something of an oversight.

It's an oversight that I feel very strongly about but I'm far from being alone. Matchtech, as the UK's leading engineering recruitment specialist, polled 3,500 engineers across the UK and we asked their views on the economy and what they would like political parties to include in their manifestos for the 2015 election.

Two-fifths of UK engineers we questioned believe that greater investment in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) apprenticeship schemes should be included in political parties' manifestos, making it their top priority.

While the parties have committed to increasing apprenticeships, focusing these on industries in real need - notably engineering which is suffering a well-recognised skills shortage, should be clearly articulated.

A further 29% of the engineers we polled called for political parties to commit to reducing university fees or provide additional financial support for those studying STEM subjects and 26% called for a clear strategy for future investment in UK energy infrastructure and clarity on the energy mix.

Adopting these three policies alone would make a big difference to UK engineering and also to the wider economy. They're strategic issues that remain an "elephant in the room" for many in business, and politics.

While the political parties have stressed their commitment to getting the UK economy growing and investing in infrastructure and housing, the fact that none have yet announced any policy initiatives aimed at supporting UK engineering as the foundation for this growth is a serious concern.

The current shortage of trained engineers creates a challenge for the future of UK engineering, with uncertainty for businesses that need engineering talent to deliver on new projects and grow profits.

I urge the politicians not to forget about the 'march of the makers' as they run for the ballots.