Engineering is a career that is all too often misunderstood as technical and labour intensive - and as such, a job that should be done by men and not women. This is so counter-intuitive, because when we really look at the necessary skillset and disciplines that engineering brings together, it becomes one of the most accessible professions in the modern world. The ability to design, plan, execute, use scientific knowledge but also manage and communicate really requires a diverse workforce of men, women and many ethnicities. So it's really important that young people, and especially girls like me, are encouraged by those in the industry to get on board with the challenging and rewarding careers on offer.
Recent research found that only 5%* of 4-12 year old children say that they would choose to drop science or design & technology from their studies, which shows that kids have a real interest in these subjects. Why then, are there not enough young people - particularly girls - choosing to study science, technology, engineering and maths at A-Level or at university, and therefore a shortage of young people going into engineering and technology careers?
I think that what parents think plays a real part. Many parents have certain perceptions on engineering - perhaps from their parents expressing similar ideas - that are so far from the truth. The idea that it is too technical and that there isn't good money in the field is an ideal that can easily be quashed. On average, engineering graduates earn a minimum of £24,524 (second only to medicine) compared to the national average of £21,000 . Not only that, the variety of disciplines that span engineering could take you to working on a microscopic scale in optical silicon photonics or perpetual motion in superconductors and superfluidity, to macroscopic scales such as the development of technology to further develop our understanding of the universe and quantum physics. Then there are operational positions, and managers who review and consult the paperwork behind such operations. In my opinion, almost anyone could find a position that suited them within the engineering industry.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is one of the many organisations trying to change this and I am working with them and a few others to really make a difference. I sit on their Junior Board and help with ideas to reach parents and young people like me. For example, the IET ran its second annual Engineering Open House Day last week, to give families a first-hand experience of what it's like to be an engineer, and the chance to visit venues and organisations not traditionally known for engineering, in order to inspire and encourage them.
A range of creative venues across the UK took part, including the National Theatre, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the BBC, ITN Productions and Sky. They put on backstage tours and talks to show children and parents the different roles that engineers play at their organisations. This included taking TV signals from camera to screen to digitally plotting and set designs or changes - and their significance in making plays, exhibitions, or productions actually happen.
Big engineering companies that contribute huge amounts to the British economy - such as Shell in partnership with the Aberdeen Science Centre, Sellafield Nuclear Power Plant, Caterpillar, and Crossrail also took part, to demonstrate what their brilliant engineers do each day.
This year's Engineering Open House Day was a success in helping to bring a little engineering magic into the lives of around 1,500 children and parents, but schools, parents and the industry do need to do more still.
Events like this help to reach kids, but it's really important that more is done to inspire children about STEM and support them with their ambitions if we are to see more young people becoming the engineers of the future. By showing people what engineers do and by standardising the perceptions of the industry we can bring in a wider diversity of people into the industry and really take things to the next level.
For updates on next year's Engineering Open House Day, and for information on the venues that took part this year, visit: www.engineer-a-better-world.org/engineering-open-house-day.
*Research from the Institution of Engineering and Technology, July 2016
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