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Engineering careers grow in appeal, but teens unclear of route to success

Half of the UK’s teens would consider pursuing a career in engineering according to a new report, but the majority aren’t aware of the qualifications needed to do so.

With an annual shortfall of at least 20,000 skilled workers, attracting new talent into the engineering sector has been high on agendas for quite some time. And young blood is key – Engineering UK states that 50 per cent of the engineering workforce will have retired by 2020, showing that engineers are disproportionately from an older demographic.

The good news, however, is that a new report shows that promotion of STEM career pathways may now be having an effect, as 50 per cent of teens aged 16-18 would consider a career in engineering.

The new report by recruitment website Jobsite, entitled Engineering Talent of Tomorrow, found that the perception of the sector is also changing for the better, with 84 per cent of teens questioned believing engineering is a cool career choice and 86 per cent also citing it as a creative career option.

“Engineering will give young people work wherever they want: in the office or outdoors; on your own or as part of a team; working with computers or without them. You could work with food, chemicals, machines, electronics, bridges or railways or design software. It is an amazing range. Young people need to be made aware of that and the IET is investing considerable resource into challenging these perceptions, with teachers and parents, and young people,” notes IET Past President Naomi Climer.

An example of this work includes the IET’s partnership with Jobsite. Working together, the organisations have developed some exclusive video content to tie in with the new report. Featuring IET President Jeremy Watson and 2016 IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Jenni Sidey, short clips provide a first hand look at what it really means to be an engineer.

“Finally the profile of engineers and their great work is being raised. In the UK, very public and ambitious projects like The Shard and the Olympic stadium have shone a light on the effort and skills which go into them,” notes Jobsite CEO, Nick Gold.

“Also, with professionals like Roma Agrawal (2012 IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year finalist and 2011 IStructE Young Structural Engineer winner) becoming well known in the mainstream, stereotypes and misconceptions about STEM careers are being shattered.

“Typically creative industries like marketing and entertainment have always been popular, but now young people are realising that even in technical professions, there’s still a fantastic opportunity to be creative when solving problems.”

The report also highlighted that teens are becoming more attracted more to engineering because it provides the chance to solve challenging problems, the opportunity to build things, a good salary and solid career progression.

“There has never been a better time to be an engineer: demand that far outstrips supply, competitive graduate salaries and fantastic career prospects characterise the engineering profession today,” agrees Climer.

Despite 87 per cent of teens being aware of engineering as a career by the time they reach 18-years-old, the report highlights that 63 per cent of the teens surveyed were not aware of the qualifications they needed to pursue it.

According to Gold, this issue is purely down to the breadth of the sector.

“There are so many disciplines covered by engineering, each requiring a different skill set – and information not readily available on how to narrow it down.

“It’s a great misconception that a degree is necessary for technical professions; we asked engineers about their route into the industry and the results were very varied across apprenticeships (31 per cent), university (34 per cent) and on the job/professional qualifications (28 per cent).

“Our report highlights the need for educators and employers to demonstrate a clear path into these careers for young people today. Engineers we spoke to cite a range of routes into the industry, not just through degrees but also apprenticeships and on the job training.

“This proves engineering to be a very accessible career choice, regardless of academic strengths and background. Demystifying this is the key to attracting and nurturing the talent needed to fill the shortfall.”

There is an urgent need to get more young people into engineering, but as Professor Watson notes, we’re currently excluding vast numbers of students because they haven’t formally studied maths.

“This is an outdated view that we need to change. We’re not saying that these subjects aren’t important but the role of an engineer is about solving creative challenges so we must also harness students’ creativity,” he says.“The important principles of maths and physics can be taught in a relevant ‘work-ready’ way as part of a degree. It is also crucially important that engineering courses refocus on teaching problem solving and creating solutions to improve our world and society.  

“This should also include an element of high-quality work experience so that students are adequately prepared for the workplace and are equipped with the skills employers demand,” he adds.

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