How do we convince young people of the many benefits that a career in engineering brings?
By Heidi Lee, Marketing and Communications Manager, ESG Rail (September 25, 2018)
The Engineering sector is extremely important to the UK’s economy, employing 19% of the total workforce and generating 23% of the UK’s turnover. Yet, not enough young people are being attracted into this sector and less young people are studying science at A Level (a 10% decrease in these subjects since 2012).
2018 is the Year of Engineering, a year long, national campaign that aims to tackle the engineering skills gap and inspire young people into choosing a career in this sector. Having recently read the Engineering UK Report 2018, I can see the importance of such a campaign! This report made a concerning read. The engineering sector in this country is thriving and buoyant. We have an annual demand for 124,000 engineers and technicians that possess core engineering skills. In addition, we need a further 79,000 related roles that require engineering knowledge and skills. For high speed rail alone we need 7,200 engineers and technicians by 2020. We have, however, an annual UK shortfall of between 37,000 and 59,000 engineering graduates and technicians.
Why are young people not seeing the benefits of a career in engineering?
With such vast and varied opportunities in the engineering sector and above average, competitive salaries, what is turning young people off this profession? Starting salaries are good, 18% above the graduate average. However, as young people develop, their interest in engineering decreases. Why and what can be done to address this?
How can we keep young people interested in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths)?
As a mother, this is of personal interest to me. I am the daughter of an engineer, I did a science degree myself and I now work for an engineering company. I am also married to a Doctor, whose mother was a science teacher and father also an engineer. Science runs in our blood! Does it also run in the blood of our two children?
You would have thought so!
Currently, both our children love science and in particular engineering. They both took part in the Imagineering Club at school (run by local engineers aimed at developing skills and interest in engineering). They made various fun kits in this club, e.g. balloon cars and working radios. My son is still enjoying science at secondary school and is taking the three separate sciences, further maths and electronics among his GCSE options. My daughter, who is still at primary school, currently wishes to be an engineer. I am hopeful that their interest in STEM subjects continues, but the odds are against this, in particular for my daughter! Once girls reach 16-19 only 25% would consider a career in engineering and only 27% of girls’ A Levels are in STEM subjects. This is compared to 46% for boys. Only 16% of first degree engineering students are women and only 9% of UK engineers are female! This is the lowest percentage across the whole of Europe!
What is turning young people and in particular girls, away from engineering in the UK?
There still appears to be lots of misconception about what engineers actually do. Still many possess the view that engineering is greasy, dirty work and not the exciting, varied, high tech, clean and controlled profession that it actually is today. This misconception appears to be rife across the older generation, shockingly only 1% of parents aspire for their daughters’ to be engineers.
Girls are not being turned off because of their ability, they tend to do much better than boys in science GCSEs, however they are then not selecting science A Levels. Science seems to be seen as a subject for brainy boys! Girls constantly underestimate their own abilities in STEM subjects and stereotypes still appear to be rife. Interestingly, girls in single sex schools are more likely to pursue these subjects than in coed ones. For instance girls at a single sex school are two and a half times more likely to study A Level Physics! It would appear that there is less requirement in a single sex school for girls to conform to gender stereotypes. Schools need to do more to address these stereotypes and demonstrate to girls that they are capable of a career in science and maths.
Do young people understand what a career in engineering might actually involves?
Employers in the engineering sector also need to do more! We need to bring more industry into the classroom. Projects like iRail, Imagineering and the Big Bang events are certainly helping to promote the sector and its many opportunities. However, we need more science mentors in the classroom, both from industry and education. Schools need driven and passionate science teachers, with the freedom to demonstrate the delights of science and inspire young people. Teachers also need to understand what engineers actually do and there is a vital need to also educate non-engineering parents as the majority of careers advice and influence comes from the home!
There is no doubt also that science and engineering education needs to be a focus at primary school. STEM learning is fun and interactive. Kids are naturally drawn to creative engineering toys, such as Lego, my daughter’s favorite toy!
Science, engineering and the related industries have contributed much to our country since the times of the Industry Revolution, it is still as important now and should be a major contributor for many years to come. Key to this country’s success is inspiring the next generation.
ESG Rail fully supports the Year of Engineering and hopes that it works and encourage young people into the profession. Hopefully, the campaign will challenge traditional perceptions and stereotypes, and tackle the lack of diversity in the sector.
To learn about engineering careers available at ESG Rail visit – www.db-esgrail.com