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Paul Jackson, chief executive EUK

Supporting Schools to help drive engineering careers is a critical task

To support careers in engineering schools and teachers must have the information and resources that they need, say EngineeringUK chief executive Paul Jackson.

At this month’s annual CBI conference there was much talk about infrastructure and the industry will no doubt welcome the investment in the road improvement programme outlined by David Cameron. Nick Clegg talked of ‘wholesale renewal in infrastructure’ and Ed Miliband affirmed Labour’s intention to create an infrastructure commission to facilitate forward planning. While individual projects will be judged on their own merit, with so much rail and road development planned it’s more important than ever to ensure, and indeed improve, the flow of skilled professionals into the workforce.

For each project, whatever its size and scale, the industry needs skilled engineers to ensure successful delivery. Politicians have been talking about projects and investment, all of which need real people to deliver them. This month (which began with Tomorrow’s Engineers Week) has seen the collective energy of the engineering community result in widespread debate around the need to inspire more young people to become engineers.

"My concern, however, is that schools may not have the information they need to support the engineering ambitions of their students."

Our research shows that three quarters of parents would recommend a career in engineering to their children.  Almost as many (73 per cent) view engineering careers as desirable even though half (49 per cent) admit they don’t know a lot about what engineers do. When it comes to young people themselves, nearly half (47 per cent) would consider an engineering career. So the good news is that generally, engineering rates pretty highly.

My concern, however, is that schools may not have the information they need to support the engineering ambitions of their students.  Despite the fact that more than half (56 per cent) of GCSE STEM teachers have been asked for careers advice by their pupils in the last year, just a third (36 per cent) feels comfortable giving advice.  Teachers play such an important part in the choices their students make, whether it’s through moments of inspiration in the classroom or information and guidance about possible future careers. We need to do more to support schools and give them the tools they need to confidently outline opportunities and next steps to the young people who look to them for direction.

November was kicked off by the second annual Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, which aims to change perceptions of engineering among young people, their parents and teachers. It is an opportunity to bring children and engineers together, to highlight the wide range of jobs available across the sector and to get young people excited about engineering activities.

We began the Week with a launch at Shell, where Vince Cable reaffirmed government commitment to investing in training future engineers and gave an update on progress since the Perkins review, highlighting the impact and importance of our collective, coordinated approach to schools engagement. It was there too that Shell announced a £1m investment in the Tomorrow’s Engineers programme, which will enable us to significantly increase our schools outreach. 

Shell UK Chairman, Erik Bonino, urged the wider engineering community to follow its lead and commit to support Tomorrow’s Engineers and we are already talking to a number of employers about their involvement, which comes in many forms. 

"If you do work with schools you’ll know there are talented young engineers across the country and when you meet them you no doubt find yourself caught up in their infectious enthusiasm."

Tomorrow’s Engineers already provides careers information and resources for young people, parents and teachers and runs a schools outreach programme that last year directly reached over 50,000 students in 1,200 schools. This new investment from Shell and other employer commitments, including the secondment of a programme director from National Grid, will mean we can inspire even more young people.

Crucially, as more companies join the Tomorrow’s Engineers network, we will create a heat map of existing schools engagement activity to then identify gaps and areas of priority and move towards our goal of reaching all 11-14 year olds. So, if your business works with schools to encourage more students to continue with STEM subjects or to consider working in engineering, we’d like you to be part of this exciting programme.

If you do work with schools you’ll know there are talented young engineers across the country and when you meet them you no doubt find yourself caught up in their infectious enthusiasm. At The Big Bang @ Parliament this month National Science & Engineering Competition finalists from across the country showcased their award-winning science and engineering projects in Westminster.

The Big Bang @ Parliament gave politicians, policy-makers and the business community the chance to meet the students, the engineers of the future, and experience the inspiration behind The Big Bang Fair, which takes place in Birmingham in March. 

There has been a spotlight on the community’s commitment to inspiring and developing the engineers of the future and the incredible potential of our young scientists and engineers this month. We need to continue to work together to inspire and develop the next generation of engineers.