The answer appears to be three things:
- Problem solving
What the lecturer from Oxford pointed out was that engineering is not plumbing, wiring and tinkering with motors. Nor is it repairing TVs or operating lathes. It's a profession. And if there's a problem with A levels at the moment it is that the link between maths and physics has disappeared - and physics has become too hand waving.
Engineers are clearly vital for our future and unemployment amongst them is near enough the square root of diddlysquat but we cannot fulfill the need without teachers knowing what universities are looking for.
In another talk it was pointed out than in Birmingham alone there are 151 different schemes about engineering for school kids. How are you meant to sort, select and know which are useful?