UK engineering is facing an insidious threat to its success – a chronic failure to get enough young people to become the engineers and skilled technicians we need. Post-Brexit, the UK is likely to face greater challenges than before in recruiting enough professional engineers and technicians to meet industry’s needs. As engineering contributes 20% of the UK’s gross value added (GVA), it is vitally important for our future prosperity and economic growth that we address this problem as soon as possible.
So what can we do to plug the skills gap? One of the biggest barriers to the uptake of engineering as a career is how it is perceived. If you look up ‘engineer’ in Google images, you will see page after page of pictures of men in hard hats. This completely belies the reality of modern engineering, which includes so much more than just construction. A graduate with an engineering degree or a skilled engineering technician can enjoy an exciting and rewarding career in a host of sectors – developing medical technologies, advancing artificial intelligence, designing sports equipment or inventing sustainable energy solutions, to name just a few potential opportunities.
Children – girls as well as boys – are natural engineers: a small child at play uses their imagination to design, modify, innovate, perfect and often test to destruction. Unfortunately, throughout their years of education, we fail to capture this innate ability by nurturing in them a range of practical, creative and problem solving skills. We owe it to young people to develop these talents through a curriculum that provides opportunities to grow, skills to fall back on throughout their lives and clear paths to future careers.
The Royal Academy of Engineering is leading a project to meet this challenge at the front line.