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The Knowledge Gap Is Holding Back Future UK Engineering Talent

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Startling research released to mark the start of Tomorrow's Engineers Week should be a wake up call to employers, educators and the engineering industry to encourage more young people into engineering careers.

Everyone who is passionate about apprenticeships, the future of our economy and young people's careers should be concerned that our school children may be rejecting engineering as a career choice because they don't know enough about it.

Girls in particular aren't attracted to engineering as a career option. Two thirds wouldn't consider a career in engineering, a quarter (24%) of which don't think that engineering is a suitable or attractive career for women. Unfortunately parents of daughters hold similar views and three quarters (76%) of parents with girls haven't encouraged their daughters to consider engineering as a career option. Fewer than one in 20 apprentice engineers are women.

Tomorrow's Engineers Week (#TEWeek13) aims to challenge these outdated perceptions of engineering by showcasing the range of exciting careers available as an engineer. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, along with over 70 other partners, is engaging young people, their parents and teachers by demonstrating the engineering skills in everything from shoes to smart phones.

Our research shows that young people have a strong interest in engineering-related subjects and activities, but this interest alone isn't enough to inspire them to consider a career in engineering.

We must tap into the fact that many young people - both boys and girls - are using engineering-related skills in everyday life. For instance, the Vision Critical data shows that three quarters (72%) of 11-14-year-olds love using the latest technology, 58% like designing and creating things and 51% like learning how things work. Meanwhile 50% enjoy science subjects at school and 38% like maths. We need to build on these interests and demonstrate that they can become a life-long passion and a fulfilling career.

One way to do this is to demonstrate to young people the breadth and depth of exciting engineering careers. 28% of 11-14-year-olds say they would consider an engineering career if they knew it involved working in exciting industries like fashion, music and film. 26% would be inspired by young engineers visiting their school and 25% would like to see what engineers actually do in their workplace.

Unfortunately engineering has an image problem and is often portrayed as a dirty job, based in factories, performed by men in boiler suits. So at Monday's Tomorrow's Engineers Week launch held in Facebook's UK HQ, I called upon the media to play their part in ensuring that a wider variety of engineering careers are showcased in the press. Rather than illustrating the latest positive economic data with images of production lines and construction sites, I'd love to see the media also focus on music production and software coders behind the latest apps; the very things that young people enjoy most.

To support our ambitions, the government has also announced a raft of measures to address future skills shortages including:

  • £30 million fund for employers to bid for to address skills shortages in sectors with specific need;
  • £250,000 of seed funding to enable Tomorrow's Engineers to accelerate the nationwide rollout of its employer engagement programme aimed at encouraging children in school to consider engineering careers; and
  • £40,000 to support the Daphne Jackson Trust to develop a new fellowship to support people returning to professional engineering jobs after a career break.

Changing the image of engineering is a big challenge, and the Government can't do this alone. So far, industry has been proactive in engaging with schools, but to make a real difference the wider engineering community needs to join forces; from individual engineers to educational outreach charities, from small family engineering companies to international, world-renowned businesses.

Together they must work with teachers, parents and young people to show engineering as an aspirational career choice and ensure that young people don't miss out on what could be a great career for them.

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