THE most recent Engineering UK State of Engineering report tells us that the contribution made by our industry is invaluable. Indeed, engineering drives the economy, drives productivity and drives employment (both directly and indirectly). Turnover stands at £1.2trn (US$1.7trn), productivity is 68% higher than for the retail and wholesale sector, and the UK’s 609,000 engineering companies employ over 5.5m people.
This strong economic performance suggests the industry is in rude health and prospects are good, so why is there concern from within about the long-term future? It’s because we know that as an industry we continue to struggle to attract bright new talent, to diversify our workforce and we continue to fall short in terms of showcasing the career prospects in engineering.
The report gives us a sense of where our industry is today, but more importantly an idea of where it could be in the future. The fact is that there is still a considerable gap between the supply of and demand for both engineers and technicians. That shortage of skilled workers means the future isn’t half as bright as the talent we’re missing out on. Failure to meet demand could cost the industry a staggering £27bn a year from 2022 – the equivalent to building 110 hospitals or 1,800 schools. The economy will suffer, talent will be wasted and potential will go unfulfilled.
How do we change that future and sell engineering to the next generation? The first step is to get them to continue to study the school subjects that mean engineering is an option. Of a cohort of 1,000 11-year-olds only 33 will achieve an engineering-related advanced apprenticeship and 24 will get an engineering/technology degree. While campaigns like whynotchemeng do a great job encouraging those with the right subjects at A-level to study Chemical Engineering at university, too many young people don’t see where their science and maths might take them, and drop them too soon. That needs to change.
We can’t expect young people to come to us, we need to take engineering to them and bring it to life. We need them to see first-hand where their studies can take them. We need to join in concerted and coordinated action to work with education to inspire young people to make the subject and career choices that will help build the future talent pipeline.
Inspiring more young people to continue studying maths and science is the first step to more skilled workers in the industry. This understanding is behind the many efforts to work with schools and young people to share positive messages and engaging examples from the world of engineering.
Over four days in March, The Big Bang Fair will see around 70,000 young visitors try out hundreds of hands-on activities, enjoy (sometimes explosive) theatre shows, join interactive workshops and talk to STEM professionals about their work and careers advisers about their own futures. The event brings classroom learning to life and for many is the first time pupils really make the connection between schoolwork and real jobs being done by real people.
Our research tells us that only two in five STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) teachers are confident giving careers advice about engineering. Teachers are key to inspiring young people and deserve our support to understand the range of 21st century engineering careers and routes into them. At The Big Bang Fair they have the opportunity to see the range of real life applications, talk directly to companies and get a better understanding of the career opportunities. And through quality careers information, the Tomorrow’s Engineers programme helps make engineering accessible, relevant, and interesting. Its strong, consistent and positive messages about working in engineering need to reach young people whatever their background, wherever they live and whatever their gender.
The wider Tomorrow’s Engineers programme looks to achieve that by linking schools with local employers and giving pupils the opportunity to learn more about the world of engineering work. This local coordination, which is supported by dedicated regional employer support managers, means it is on course to reach 1m young people a year within five years.
Companies and institutions supporting Tomorrow’s Engineers are taking positive action to help address the shortfall in engineers and give more young people the opportunity to enjoy rewarding careers in the industry. You can be part of that drive, from using the Tomorrow’s Engineers careers resources when working with schools to joining the network to create the next generation of engineers. The stronger the network, the more we can improve the reach, quality, diversity and impact of engineering schools outreach and secure the future of the industry.
Paul Jackson – CEO of EngineeringUK
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