2018’s Year of Engineering: shattering stereotypes and tackling the skills shortage

Author : Laura Giddings, Education Events Manager at RS Components

05 June 2018

Credit: RS Components

Despite the issue of the skills shortage in engineering, in the wake of the UK Government's Year of Engineering, there is exponential growth taking place across a range of industries and applications that rely heavily on engineering innovation – such as the IoT, smart factories and even cities. But if these technologies, and indeed our engineering industry, are to evolve and grow, the skills shortage must be tackled as a priority.

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It’s a great thing, therefore, that this campaign is shining a year-long spotlight on engineering, highlighting the many varied career choices and breadth of options available in this area to children and young people – and aiming to both inspire their interests in an engineering career and influence their subject choices accordingly.

What is so positive about the campaign is that it brings together and involves education, industry and other organisations with the ability to raise STEM subject awareness as a collaborative force to tackle this vital issue. With the UK already facing a chronic shortage of skilled engineers (estimated by EngineeringUK in its 2017 State of Engineering Report at 20,000 annually), the industry must prioritise tangible, effective and sustained efforts to nurture new, home-grown engineering talent.

At RS Components, we have been passionate about this cause for many years, and have been actively involved in numerous initiatives to inspire tomorrow’s engineers: from running coding workshops and events in schools using Raspberry Pi devices – and donating technology such as 3D printers to schools – through to partnering with initiatives such as the Jaguar Land Rover 4x4 Technology in Schools Challenge.

Our Titan II truck continues to tour the country, showcasing innovative technology used in industry, to help inspire young people in education. Already this year, we have taken Titan II to the BETT show (formerly known as the British Educational Training and Technology Show) and to the regional and national Big Bang Fairs at Silverstone, Birmingham NEC and Weston Super Mare – as well as supporting nationwide college and university STEM days across the country. Throughout the year, we will also be participating in other Big Bang Fairs, including Sutton and Enfield, before taking the innovation truck to New Scientist Live at ExCeL London in September.

Women in engineering

At RS, we are also focusing on the theme of women in engineering throughout the entire month of June, in support of International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) on June 23rd. A concerted focus on encouraging females into the sector could go a long way to addressing the skills shortage.

Credit: RS Components

In over 30 years, the proportion of female UK engineering graduates has only increased from 7% to 15.8% (as of 2016). That figure is higher for the US – where 20% of engineering graduates are female – while in India the figure is higher than 30%. Especially given that not all engineering graduates subsequently go on to pursue a career in engineering, the UK’s number is worryingly low.

With initiatives such as the WISE (Women into Science and Engineering) campaign and the Women’s Engineering Society (which organises INWED), engineering employers, educational organisations and other industry players have a marked opportunity to get involved and make a positive impact on the number of women entering the industry.

This year, alongside other events, RS will be involved in a STEM event called ‘Here Come the Girls’, which will be hosted by Julie Bentley, the Chief Executive of Girlguiding, and attended by business leaders committed to tackling gender inequality in STEM.

The event will be a chance to explore how we support women undertaking STEM careers and share examples of the work that Girlguiding is doing to support the female talent pipeline. We are delighted that Her Royal Highness Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, president of Girlguiding since 2003, will also be in attendance.

To encourage girls into engineering, we must highlight the many varied roles available to them within the industry – not just those that have perhaps traditionally been deemed ‘male roles’, such as those associated with construction or manufacturing. A successful tactic in this quest has been to highlight and celebrate female engineering role models – but we need more of them.

Through our work within the STEM area, we have come across good examples among STEM ambassadors, including Chelsea Back, an HND student currently studying for Engineering at Bradford College, who has been surprised and inspired by the constant advancements and possibilities within the industry, particularly within medical engineering.

Credit: RS Components

Saloni Chhabra, another STEM ambassador, was encouraged at an early age to pursue a STEM career, and chose to study electronics, playing to her curiosity for new concepts in technology – to help advance driverless car-related technology or help find cures for diseases. These young women have been enlightened and enthused about a career in engineering and are keen to help spread the word. They are vital in the mission to inspire young females about engineering roles and raise awareness of the endless possibilities for them in the industry.

Supporting STEM initiatives

The National STEM Learning Network, with which RS is involved, has made notable strides in increasing engineering and technology degree entrants, demonstrating that, when a concerted effort is made, a real difference can be achieved.

RS held an open day last year to recruit STEM ambassadors, attracting more than 70 volunteers, who will use exciting technology such as Raspberry Pi, Arduino, 3D printing and robotics to make workshops fun and inspirational. And we have since taken the ambassador recruit number to over 80 – with a goal of having 100 registered by the end of the year.

Organisations and industry players can get involved to whatever extent they can manage, whether that means supplying resources for schools to help them integrate engineering into their curriculum, running workshops or visits, or helping to recruit further STEM ambassadors.

Everyone can play their part without necessarily incurring huge cost or time commitment. In fact, we would say that everyone concerned with STEM must play their part.

As a distributor with a long heritage in electronics component distribution, RS acknowledges its strong position and active role in helping raise awareness of careers in engineering – along with many other technology businesses that can play their part. The bottom line is that unless we take the impending shortage seriously, it will be detrimental to the UK engineering industry, perhaps even threatening our very foundations. Distributors relying on buyers of products for this industry must play their part in helping secure the future – not only of their business, but the industry at large.

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