Engineering businesses should offer engagement programmes to primary school students in order to tackle the skills gap, says Simon Biggs, the Education Outreach Officer at global engineering company Renishaw.
Too few young people are deciding to take subjects related to engineering careers, meaning they lack the skills needed for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers.
STEM expertise is crucial in tackling important issues that the climate, economy, and medicine will face in the future, yet not enough young people actually understand what engineering really involves.
It has been forecast that the UK requires 265,000 skilled entrants each year in order to meet employer demand for engineering enterprises.
This doesn’t spell completely bad news though, and perceptions of engineering as a whole have actually grown more positive over the last five years, with the proportion of 11 to 16 year olds who would consider a career in engineering rising from 40% in 2012 to 51% in 2016.
Companies who want to close the impending skills gap may find it difficult to find skilled apprentices because of the lack of outreach to young people about what careers are available to them. For this reason, businesses are beginning to try and improve the profile of engineering to young people, through employer outreach.
School engagement programmes inspire young people to consider a career in engineering, and if companies start with children at a young age, it could solve the skills shortage.
Renishaw hold engagement programmes for year six students aged ten and eleven, to improve perceptions of STEM subjects and encourage pupils to think about STEM careers early on. They also run ad-hoc activities and even a Brownies group.
Evidence from the Education and Employers Taskforce demonstrates the positive role that employer engagement plays in helping young people make good career decisions, as well as impact on future earnings.
The onus for change must be a joint responsibility, by the government, employers, schools and parents, and initiatives like the IET’s Engineering Open House Day can play an important role in sparking an interest in engineering, encouraging children to want to find out more.
Several companies are already offering this kind of outreach, offering school visits, career talks and work experience opportunities, in order to reinforce what a creative and exciting field engineering is to work in.