THE BLOG

What We Talk About, When We Talk About Engineering

20/12/2013 10:25 GMT | Updated 18/02/2014 10:59 GMT

Recently research was released which shows that British job seekers are more pragmatic about their world of work than one might think. Roles as tropical island caretakers or chocolate tasters - or even the traditional childhood fantasy jobs of astronaut, fire fighter or footballer - may be the stuff of dream jobs; but when it comes to reality, the average British job seeker is more attracted to roles that offer security, salary and learning, as well as opportunities for creativity and professional development.

However, it's also an unfortunate fact of recessionary Britain that, with each vacancy often drawing hundreds of applicants, it's largely safe to say there are fewer jobs than there are job seekers. There are, of course, a few notable exceptions and - given a certain understandable bias on my part - it's pleasing to note that the engineering industry is one of them.

Statistics on the UK graduate market in 2013 show that engineering and industrial companies expect among the biggest growth in the numbers of vacancies; and yet engineering and industrial employers are still finding that supply can't keep up with demand. Although it's hard to overstate the value of how employable being skilled in engineering can make a new graduate, numbers of students choosing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at secondary or tertiary education levels continue to diminish. Somehow the idea of a science-based career still doesn't seem to resonate with many young people. But why not?

In a word, perception. Unfortunately, for many students and young people, engineering still conjures up visions of geeks in darkened server rooms, men in hard hats or groups of people in lab coats poring over graphical charts. However, modern day engineering is so much more than simply technical plans, geometry instruments or nuts and bolts. While the origins of the word have roots in the practice of operating engines and machinery, its earliest etymology derives from the Latin ingenium and is most closely related to intelligence and natural capacity; which, perhaps ironically, is closer to its modern day equivalent. Today engineering and technology careers offer significant potential for creativity, cleverness and ingenuity; unfortunately, these words are often not associated with the modern perception of an engineer. Indeed, the powerful role an engineer plays in transforming our lives with their minds and skills appears to be lost on many young people exploring their career choices; particularly young women.

Average 17-year old female students seem to be more attracted to an exciting career in design, than the so-called boring world of an engineer portrayed in today's society. Ironically, both design and engineering require many of the similar skills. For example, to succeed in technology engineering, alongside the relevant technical skills, it takes problem solving, teamwork and project management; and while there's not only one type of person or gender which can provide those skills, they are certainly areas in which female workers often shine.

Failure to engage and employ the young - male or female - not only lowers growth now, it also threatens tomorrow. For those of us who believe STEM experts will be the backbone of Britain's future, there's work to be done, if we're going to re-engineer the perception of engineering. Business leaders, governments, educators and other influencers need to unite on this battlefield to invest funds, efforts and ingenuity which inspire all our young people to see themselves in that future. Otherwise there's a real risk that when it comes to the global boardroom, the UK will find itself struggling to get a seat at the table.