STEM Matters: Guest column – Doctor, lawyer... engineer?...

Author : Adam Tipper | Director | Next Gen Makers

04 March 2020

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We’re finally starting to make strides in the UK in inspiring more young people to consider careers in engineering from an earlier age. At recent secondary school careers fairs, I’ve been impressed by the number of year 7 or 8 students that have told me they would like to become an engineer one day.

This guest column was originally featured in the March 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

However, in wider UK society, challenges remain, with outdated perceptions of the sector, and a lack of awareness of the vast array of impressive companies that make up our engineering supply chains, and the value engineering brings to society and our economy. Too often, this is the case with influencers of young people, at home and at school. In this guest post, Adam Tipper, Director at Next Gen Makers and UK manufacturing & STEM advocate tells us how this got him thinking about how different things are in other great engineering nations – such as Germany...

My brother is a primary school teacher. Last year, he took a group of his year 6 pupils to Germany on a school trip. While there, he got chatting to the German Headmaster of the school and asked him, among other things, why the German education system has not really changed for the best part of 40 years. The Headteacher’s answer spoke volumes about the philosophy of Germany and its people… “Because it works”. Spot on! 

So the conversation continues, and my brother starts talking about different careers that students are exposed to while at primary school, and then at secondary school, in Germany. What struck him was the reverence in which the Headteacher (and most of German society) held engineers. They are, quite rightly, held in the same esteem as doctors and lawyers.

To me, this makes complete sense – given that in everyday life, you look around and everything that you see has been engineered in some way. Engineering and manufacturing is vital as a wealth creator for the economy, and has been instrumental in all technological advancements and developments known to man – much to the benefit of society. In Germany, society completely understands the value that engineering adds to society.

So engineering and manufacturing create wealth, jobs and skills – and benefit society. Why then does UK society not revere engineers in the same way as our European counterparts? Mainly, I believe, because it is misunderstood.

Decades old dated perceptions of industry still prevail among influencers of young people, including many teachers, careers advisors and parents. Generations have been encouraged to seek careers in other professions, or go to university, as opposed to further education as part of an apprenticeship. It’s time to change these outdated perceptions and misinformation.

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Mainly because they are totally incorrect – but also because we need a thriving engineering and manufacturing sector that can attract and retain the best young talent. And furthermore, because unlike those that wish to become doctors or lawyers, if a young person does want to become a mechanical engineer for example, in some cases they risk wasting 3 years plus of their life at university, when they might be better off pursuing an apprenticeship instead.

The West Midlands was the birth place of the Industrial Revolution. Not enough people know that we’re now experiencing its fourth iteration (automation, advanced manufacturing and Industry 4.0). If they did, they’d understand this is high value-added manufacturing at its best, going on here and now. The UK continues to be quite rightly renowned globally for its engineering innovation, problem solving and ingenuity.

We have rich aerospace, automotive,motorsport, medical, built environment and other manufacturing supply chains that contain thousands of companies innovating, investing and employing millions of skilled people.

It’s time to help change perceptions and provide a platform for manufacturers to gain the visibility they need among local young people, inspiring more of them into the sector and into apprenticeships. This is why Next Gen Makers has launched its Engineering Careers Prospectus 2020 within the West Midlands secondary school & college network.

Filling the void of an engineering-specific careers resource and proactively promoting it via workshops and at careers fairs, this multi-format resource can inspire young people, but can also be distributed to influencers, such as parents and careers advisors, to better inform this audience too.

Step by step, we aim to remove the barriers that are stopping more young people coming into engineering. To achieve this, perhaps UK society needs to become a ‘little more German’ in terms of how they appreciate its value.

This column is part of an occasional series of guest columns for STEM Matters. If you have an interesting viewpoint on STEM topics to share with EPDT readers, get in touch with Editor, Mark Gradwell at mark.gradwell@imlgroup.co.uk


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