September 15, 2020

Why young people are so important to the engineering sector

It’s no longer news that there’s a shortage of young people entering the engineering sector – but we shouldn’t let the push to recruit to meet the shortfall go quiet. With such a shift in the way the sector works, there’s arguably no better time for young people to plug the skills gap.

Here, we consider why the sector is crying out for skilled young people and look at what businesses can do to help encourage them in the direction of engineering.

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Raising awareness about engineering
A report by Engineering UK 2017 revealed that the demand for engineering and manufacturing skills far outweighed the supply. What’s more, calculations at the time realised that if we were to plug that gap, we’d need to have recruited around 1.8 million engineers by 2025. And given that the UK’s engineering sector contributes more than a quarter of the GDP, these aren’t wishy washy figures to be taken with a pinch of salt – it’s crucial we meet that deficit to ensure the future of engineering.

Finding skilled talent for the sector is becoming an extremely difficult task. It’s now more important than ever to raise awareness of what engineers do, career paths in the sector and generally dispel common misconceptions and change attitudes.

STEM in primary schools
The government and the education system have predominantly focused before now on work experience for pupils aged between 16 and 18 – but at this point, it’s likely too late. Children develop notions of job roles and careers from an early age (role play from as young as two years old helps instill in them an understanding of skills needed for certain roles).  From secondary school age, there’s a big push on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)-focused subjects but that could be too late and many believe we should be encouraging children from even earlier on. By the time they start secondary school, children have often made up their mind about careers and it’s much harder to get their attention. However, introducing even simple elements of STEM at primary school provides a better chance of children becoming interested and then choosing to further develop that interest at secondary school before enrolling on engineering further education. Most teachers don’t have an engineering background and that is also hindering young people’s would-be interest. They cannot actively promote the sector to pupils as they don’t have the right knowledge. Primary schools could do a lot more to raise awareness of engineering and promote what it’s like to work in the sector – to equip younger children with an idea of an engineering career before they start secondary school.

Employers can help
The Apprenticeship Levy, introduced in May 2017, is an attempt to support government and businesses to develop skills, and diversify recruitment. Many engineering firms have taken on apprentices as a result of the levy – it’s a chance for them to take control and get strategic in their training investment and really consider what will benefit the long-term health of the business. The levy can be used to train existing employees or find new staff. Promoting apprenticeships allows talented young people from any background to develop their skillset and focus on a career without building university debt.

Employers can also play their part by visiting schools – primary and secondary – to increase awareness of the engineering sector and show them the vast range of possibilities and rewards of a career in engineering. Young people need to be made aware from an early age of the career opportunities available to them and this is a key opportunity to promote the importance of engineers and detail their fantastic work.

Overturning media (mis)representation
There’s also much work to be done to tackle the male to female ratio in engineering. Women’s Engineering Society found that 2017 surveys indicated only 11% of the engineering workforce was female – and the UK had the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe[1]. Gender (stereotypes and assumptions) plays a crucial role in the engineering shortage – and society and the media has the power to change perceptions for the better. It’s almost unwritten but assumed that as children, boys have more exposure to industries like construction and automotive and girls perhaps nursing or similar. This has to stop and perceptions have to change. From a young age, girls must be made aware of engineering and, more than that, encouraged if they express interest. We need to raise awareness and opportunity to be able to tap into this seriously under-represented talent pool of female engineers. The media can play a huge role in this but it also comes back to schooling too – if we can reverse this thinking so it never gets a platform to play out in children’s minds, that’s half the battle won.

 

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