STEM women in a lab

Lack of engineering role models aggravates skills shortage, says IET

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A study conducted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has found that young students lack role models in areas such as engineering, particularly during the crucial teenage years when they must make important career decisions.

The IET carried out a survey of 1,000 young people aged 10 to 16. The survey found that 27 per cent of young people could not think of a relatable role model for careers in engineering. Fewer than one in five of the respondents could name at least two engineers, scientists or mathematicians.

The survey results indicated that social media figures have a significant influence on young people, with approximately half (47 per cent) of children preferring to seek advice – including career advice – from social media figures. Approximately a quarter of the students aged 13-16 said that they direct career-related questions to their influencer and celebrity role models – through channels including Instagram, YouTube and Twitter – while fewer asked for advice from family matters.

Parents, meanwhile, expressed concern that their children hold too much admiration for reality stars and celebrities. The most popular celebrity role models were discovered to be bestselling Harry Potter author JK Rowling, singer Ariana Grande, and British Royal Prince Harry, while the students described themselves as inspired by recent cultural events such as British astronaut Tim Peake’s 2016 space mission, the London 2012 Olympic Games, the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May.

“The research shows there needs to be more mentor figures from STEM backgrounds and this could be why, when it comes to career inspiration, engineering falls short,” said David Lakin, a member of the IET Education and Skills Sector Panel, in a statement. “We need to continue to raise awareness of the vital role engineering plays in some of the UK’s most popular industries.”

The survey also showed that more than two-thirds of young students are unaware of the role of engineering in the entertainment industries, including the music, film, TV, sports and vlogging spheres. The survey coincides with an IET campaign in association with ‘Blue Peter’ and a popband to raise awareness of the importance of engineering in the music industry.

In a ceremony last week, the IET recognised the 2018 Young Woman Engineer of the Year finalists for their remarkable achievements across a range of fields of engineering. The winners were congratulated by Prime Minister Theresa May, who hailed them as inspirational role models for girls.

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