A mentor working with sixth form students during an EES workshop at Sheffield Hallam university.

Engineers should get back in the classroom

Dr Gordon Mizner, Chief Executive of EDT, discusses why young professionals should consider volunteering as STEM ambassadors, visiting schools and working as mentors.

So you’ve started your engineering career, moving away from full-time education. You perhaps look back on your schooldays with fondness but now you have some money in your pocket and are on the ground floor of a great career. Why on earth would I be telling you that you should head back to school?

Well, at its simplest, it is in your own best interests. The UK engineering sector faces a widening skills gap as the flow of students from education who want to be engineers is insufficient even to replace the retirement of existing engineers, let alone to fill the expansion plans of this great industry.

How does this affect you? If UK engineering businesses can’t attract sufficient talented recruits in the future they will relocate operations elsewhere, meaning that there will be a smaller range of opportunities for promotion and development available in the UK. You may be required to relocate overseas to further your career, competing with nationals in other countries for the best jobs.

Inspire the next generation

What is the link with going back to school? Let me ask you another question. What influenced you to go into engineering? It is most likely that you knew someone who was an engineer, or had the opportunity to see how being an engineer could make a difference to real world problems. The difficulty is that when they are making choices about what subjects they want to study at school, not enough children have had this opportunity to understand what a career in engineering offers. That is why it is important that you go back to school.

Research shows that one thing that has a great impact on school children’s career choices is to meet people who are already doing particular jobs. It is something that we see at EDT every day. We run business/education engagement programmes that aim to inspire pupils into science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers. Allowing pupils to work with industry mentors, particularly those early in their careers, gives them role models and an insight into the opportunities that can be provided by a career in STEM industries. Without that insight they choose to study alternative subjects which rule them out of a career in the most progressive and economically important UK industries. Is it too dramatic to say that you have a role in stimulating the future prospects of UK engineering?

Support your own personal development

What other reasons are there for you to go back to school to spread the word about engineering careers? One reason that is often overlooked is that it is good for your personal development. As the chief executive of a major global engineering company put it to me – “if you can present convincingly to a group of 12 year olds then board presentations are simple!”

Working with schools allows you to hone the communications skills that companies often value as highly as engineering expertise. It is also the case that building links with local schools provides added value for your company. Many companies we work with view their schools work as a valuable investment in a talent pipeline, pointing children to an engineering career and then working with them to develop the hard and soft skills that they will need to be effective employees. Companies often know the best students very well before they leave school.

Networking opportunities

Finally working with schools provides you with a link across the engineering community. The most progressive engineering companies all participate in industry/education link programmes and most of these programmes have ‘graduations’ at regional and sometimes national level which allow the mentors taking part to meet their peers from other companies and to enjoy the advantages of networking with others in market leading engineering companies.

At EDT we work with companies to run a wide range of initiatives. Our Go4SET and EES programmes take teams of students at ages 12-14 and 16-17 respectively and allow them to work with mentors on specific projects over a long period of time. Our First Edition and Open Industry activities give shorter experiences to larger numbers of pupils, often targeting those from hard to reach groups such as ethnic minorities and from families that don’t have a history of higher education. Allowing girls to see the benefits of STEM careers is also crucial. Our Headstart and Year in Industry activities are of interest to those who are thinking of heading into Higher Education to study engineering or other STEM subjects.

All these activities need mentors to provide the inspiration and motivation to influence the next generation of UK scientists and engineers. Overarching many of these programmes is the ‘Industrial Cadets’ accreditation, which allows pupils to demonstrate that they have done valuable work experience while learning more about career opportunities in their local industries.

So what should you do?

If your company runs business/education link programmes, get involved. Look to see if the programme can also provide Industrial Cadet credentials to the students taking part so they can gain the maximum from their experience.

If your company isn’t presently involved in schools, argue the case for getting involved. You can talk to EDT about what is possible, or if you can’t convince your business, we may be able to help you get involved in some programmes as an individual.

The bottom line is that you are needed to spread the word in schools about engineering careers. You can make a real difference to people’s life choices and prospects, while at the same helping your own skills and career.

For further information on EDT’s work visit www.etrust.org.uk.

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