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The UK engineering industry is alive and thriving, with its turnover of £1.5 trillion* acting as a significant contribution to the UK economy.

According to a recent report from Engineering UK, the engineering sector employs 5.4 million people across 542,440 engineering companies. By 2020, these companies are projected to have 2.74 million job openings. With the future engineers of 2020 currently choosing their GCSE subjects at school, now is a vital time to inspire the next generation, says Jez Clements.

It is important that young people aspire to engineering from a young age, in time to select science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects for their GCSEs and A-levels. It’s been shown that almost all students who study Physics at A-level go on to a STEM-related course at university, with Engineering being the primary degree choice*.

Engineering can be a difficult subject for students and teachers to understand as it covers such a wide range of subjects, sectors and jobs. This is why it’s beneficial for an engineer to visit schools to talk to pupils, or for engineering companies to run school open days, such as the workshop recently held by Cambridge Design Partnership. We used the workshop as an opportunity to excite pupils about what’s involved in a career in engineering.

By demonstrating the design processes around the Bloodhound SSC steering wheel, which Cambridge Design Partnership is currently finalising for manufacture, we showed pupils that an engineering job could literally see you helping to design a world record-breaking racing car!

A recent survey** of 14-18 year old pupils showed the three best ways to get more young people into engineering: provide work experience in engineering roles (61 percent), run open days at engineering companies (39 percent) and school/college visits by engineers (38 percent).

Speaking to school children and answering their questions encourages young people to make the right subject choices that keep open the routes into a career in engineering. One of our engineers volunteers as a STEM Ambassador, to work with young people through activities and school visits, and engage their interest and enthusiasm for the subjects.

Studies have repeatedly shown that pupils can view STEM subjects as dull, difficult and ‘uncool’. We clearly disagree and need to show them that many of the things they regard as ‘cool’ in their lives are designed or engineered and often involve technology.

With the standard of teaching and curriculum of these subjects continuously rising, our job is to inspire young people and show them how STEM subjects can lead on to a lucrative, exciting and fulfilling career.

University and beyond
And when young people consider what to study at university, engineering degrees can be perceived as long, difficult and unglamorous. Attractive humanities subjects are enticing applicants away from STEM with promises of excitement and rumours of only a few lectures a week. But can we show them that engineering is actually creative, stimulating and provides solutions to many problems in the world?

Even after graduating with an engineering degree, many students are seduced by other perceivably better paying and more high-flying careers, such as those in the financial sector. This is mainly due to stereotypes and lack of understanding of engineering careers.

Even among engineering graduates there is a lack of clarity and appreciation for the huge contribution engineering makes to society. Compared with sectors such as medicine, sport and finance, engineering is an invisible industry with much confusion around actual job roles and financial benefits. However, these sectors are dependent on the development of communications and the transfer of scientific discovery that can be achieved by engineers.

Another challenge is that a large number of students each year apply to engineering courses to gain transferable skills with a view to keeping their career options open after graduating. This is a great opportunity for us to show the benefits of a career in engineering and inspire them to stay in the industry.

A great way to dispel industry confusion is for engineering companies to offer students a ‘year in industry’ as part of their university course. Normally sandwiched between the second and third years of university, this scheme allows students to work for a year and gain a real feel for what a career in engineering involves. It also provides an opportunity for the industry to show that it offers exciting, fast moving and well-paid jobs. In the current economic climate, salaries can be a real worry so it’s important to show students how lucrative engineering can be. Pay for a full-time engineer is in the top 30 percent of UK salaries – a fact that rarely gets a mention.

Graduate schemes are also very beneficial to help young engineers enter the industry and launch their careers. At Cambridge Design Partnership we offer both ‘year in industry’ placements – every year offering two young people a chance to work in our offices on real client work to gain hands-on experience and valuable technical skills – and a graduate recruitment scheme, through which we’ve met a number of very talented young engineers.

With young people stating that they value creativity most in their job we need to highlight that great engineering design is a blend of art and science. It’s about breaking the stereotype that engineering is just ‘fixing things’ and emphasising the creativity of design.

Making the industry visible
We have to show young people how engineering changes the world. With feats of engineering such as the Large Hadron Collider, the Bloodhound supersonic car, or even the creation of the Olympic Park last year gaining worldwide coverage, engineering should no longer be an invisible industry!

If the UK is to continue competing on a global scale we need a talented and passionate next generation of engineers. For us, it’s about highlighting that engineering is an interesting, fun, creative and above all fulfilling career.

*Engineering UK 2013 report
**National Grid ‘Engineering Our Future’ report

Full article appeared in DPA Online 01-09-13

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