STEM Matters: This is Engineering Day – the new national day for engineering...

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

02 October 2019

This is Engineering Day logo
This is Engineering Day logo

In the latest episode of ‘good news, bad news’ for STEM, November 6th marks the launch of a new national awareness day for engineering: This is Engineering Day. That’s the good news – but the flipside is that this latest initiative from the Royal Academy of Engineering is down to new research showing engineering to be among the UK's most poorly understood careers.

This column was originally featured in the October 2019 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

The research by EngineeringUK shows that STEM careers in general (including those in science and technology) are not well understood by young people – but that engineering is the worst, with over three quarters (76%) of young people aged 11 to 19 admitting they don’t know much about what engineers actually do.

For those of us already worried about the skills gap in STEM, this data is terrifying. Such an overwhelming lack of understanding and awareness about the work of engineers and scientists (with the same research also finding that 65% of young people aged 11 to 19 don’t know much about what those working in science do, and 68% don’t know much about what those working in technology do either) can only have serious and far-reaching implications for all of us...

The obvious consequence is the ongoing skills and recruitment crisis in engineering and the resulting shortfall of talent at a time when demand is increasing, due to both growing need and the accelerating retirement of an ageing workforce. But aside from recruitment, a lack of basic understanding about STEM is a worry because it can lead to the profession, its work and its contribution to both society and the economy being unappreciated and undervalued. Indeed, will those in positions of power and responsibility making decisions about funding for STEM projects and education truly understand the value STEM brings and offers?

Furthermore, as the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) highlights, misconceptions about engineers and lack of understanding of the profession also mean young people are missing potential opportunties for rewarding and fulfilling careers – as well as to make a vital difference to our world.

Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT
Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

At a time when the world is facing so many grand challenges – from addressing climate change and sustaining 10 billion people by 2050 to harnessing AI and other transformational technologies for the good of humanity – many young people (42% of those aged 11 to 19, according to this same research) say that ‘making a difference’ or ‘having an impact’ would be an important factor to them when deciding upon a career. And yet, despite the fact that all these challenges, at their core, must be solved by engineers and scientists, almost half those same young people haven’t ever thought about becoming an engineer.

As Hayaatun Sillem, Chief Executive of the RAEng, says: “Engineering and technology play an incredible role in shaping the world around us and in addressing some of society’s biggest challenges, from providing sustainable supplies of food, water and clean energy, to advancing healthcare, and keeping us safe and secure. We know that young people increasingly want to tackle these issues and make a difference in the world, but unfortunately lack of understanding around engineering is stopping them from exploring careers that will enable them to do this.

This matters because we face an estimated shortfall of up to 59,000 engineers each year in the UK, and there is a pressing need to diversify our engineering workforce, since only 12% of professional engineers are female and less than 9% are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. That’s why we’re making November 6th This is Engineering Day, to raise awareness of what an engineer is and celebrate those that are shaping the world we live in.”

And so, with the ambition to turn engineering from one of the most poorly understood, into one of the best understood and in-demand careers, the RAEng is launching This is Engineering Day on November 6th as part of Tomorrow’s Engineers Week and its This is Engineering campaign – which celebrates the diversity of engineering roles and aims to give more young people from all backgrounds the opportunity to take up engineering careers.

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