How to encourage the younger generation to get into engineering
The engineering sector is one of the most integral parts of the UK economy, employing 19% of the nation’s total workforce and generating 25% of the UK’s 2015 GDP. With technology continuing to shape the sector, and the current political and economic landscape in a state of flux, it’s clear that a talent pipeline must be developed to ensure strong future growth, both at home and internationally. To do this, parents and caregivers, educators and the industry at large need to identify new ways in which to engage with and inspire the next generation to pursue a career in engineering.
It’s sorely needed. The shortage of young engineers shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone within the sector: after all, Engineering UK’s own 2018 analysis estimates a talent shortfall of between 37,000-59,000 people to meet annual demand for core engineering roles, with a graduate-level shortfall of at least 22,000. There simply aren’t enough young people pursuing a career within the sector, and the wider economy will suffer as a result. The Year of Engineering is upon us, and there’s never been a better time to get people excited about this diverse industry.
Not only does the engineering industry suffer from a lack of young talent, but there is also a much-reported gender imbalance. However, both issues can be tackled by changing the misconceptions that young people have about engineering. For some, the industry may seem daunting, with the expectation that you need to be highly skilled in physics and mathematics, uncreative and heavily interested in ‘fixing’ things to be successful. Indeed, one study on the perceptions of engineering found that people associate the industry with building and repair work, as opposed to designing and innovating. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that some people see it to be a repetitive, outdated field.
However, the rapid technological development taking place within the sector actually makes for an incredibly forward-thinking field of work. With the Internet of Things, 3D printing and machine learning all impacting engineering, those who work in the industry are at the cutting edge of new developments and can work incredibly creatively to develop solutions to problems that impact society. It’s not all about getting your hands dirty and completing repetitive tasks, either. The breadth of engineering roles available today means that there really is a role for everyone with the right skills and a curious mind.
In addition, while just 11% of the engineering workforce is female, steps are being taken to encourage more women to get into the field – and one of these measures should be introducing the subject of engineering to women at a much earlier stage. Research shows that interest in STEM is high amongst girls before they reach the age of 11, but by the time girls turn 16, their passion tapers off. This presents a key opportunity for educators to ensure curriculums have a heavy emphasis on STEM subjects, introducing practical hands-on activities to the classroom, bringing in mentors to ignite enthusiasm and encouraging children to explore different career options. Career fairs, innovative apprenticeships and attractive graduate schemes can also help to encourage all young people to take an interest in an engineering career.
Getting young people excited about engineering
Engineering can be an incredibly appealing profession for young people, particularly when you focus on the work many engineers do to improve society and help others. With 90% of young people saying they want a career that tackles social issues, and 67% saying they would consider engineering if it helped society, the problem-solving element of engineering should be emphasised when communicating with the next generation. Modern engineers use their skills to do everything from improving air quality and pollution levels though to helping doctors and veterinarians improve the quality of life of their patients through new devices. The range of possibilities within engineering is enormous, providing huge scope for people to make a difference every day.
The Year of Engineering, a government and industry-led campaign to tackle the engineering skills gap, will go some way to inspiring the next generation of engineers. This year will see the government and its 1,000 partners deliver inspiring engineering experiences to young people, bringing them face-to-face with role models within the industry. Other initiatives such as Highways England, Tomorrow’s Engineers and Inspire Engineering are all playing their part to engage young people in the joys and opportunities that engineering offers.
On a more individual level, parents and educators can inspire young people by talking about engineering feats around them, whether that’s a remarkable bridge, a car engine or a running tap. Engineering-focused games can help, as can problem-solving challenges and activities. Speak to children and teenagers about career pathways available in engineering, ensuring they know how exciting, challenging, creative and rewarding such a career can be. For more inspiration, take a look at our Engine Ears video: