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Engineering is essential to the future growth of the UK economy

4 min read

Engineering is anything but dull - let’s inspire more young people to make it their career, writes Vicky Ford 


Engineering today is anything but dull. With engineering skills, young people can change the world: they can design spacesuits, develop new training systems for potential World Cup-winning England football players and create prosthetic limbs to help people walk again.

Engineering is essential to the future growth of the UK economy and underpins so much of our day-to-day lives. But not enough young people are being given the chance to discover the opportunities that a career in engineering could offer them, and take up roles that are varied, fulfilling, and help shape the future and deliver real benefits to society. What’s more, young people with engineering skills are in huge demand.

In the UK, too many young women are missing out on these life-changing opportunities. For example, in 2015-16 only 7.5% of engineering-related apprenticeship achievements in England and 3.4% in Scotland were completed by women.

In a multi-country analysis of diversity in engineering conducted in 2007, the UK had the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, a long way behind the leaders, Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus, with nearly 30%.

In the UK, 12% of engineers are women, yet evidence shows that women who become engineers are better paid, have greater job opportunities and are happier in their career choice than the vast majority of their peers.

In a survey of more than 7,000 engineers commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering, 87% of female engineers said they would recommend their career to friends and family, higher than the proportion of male engineers who would say the same. The statistics speak for themselves.

To coincide with 2018 being the Year of Engineering, the Royal Academy of Engineering in collaboration with EngineeringUK launched This Is Engineering, a new campaign to show teenagers, and everyone who helps them to make decisions about their futures, that engineering makes possible so much of what we do every day and is for people from all backgrounds.

I recently had the pleasure of hosting the parliamentary launch of the first set of recommendations from the campaign, which were informed by the views of young people.

The recommendations were developed at an event held at the Sharp Project in Manchester that brought together more than 60 students to work on a series of engineering challenges hosted by Mondelēz International, film special-effects company Framestore, Wrigley, the BBC and Arcadia Spectacular, who create breathtaking stage shows at festivals such as Glastonbury. Students then discussed what more government and industry can do to give young people like them opportunities to get into engineering careers.

This Is Engineering’s action plan outlines 10 recommendations that aim to reduce the chronic shortfall of talent engineering faces. It calls for more businesses to pledge to run taster days – a shorter version of work experience – to help students understand the varied role of engineering, and for the government to tie taster days into the upcoming careers strategy.

Following new research conducted by YouGov that shows 13- to 18-year-olds are most likely to turn to Google (52%) for career inspiration, ahead of their parents (41%) and teachers (37%), the plan calls for more careers information to be hosted online and a focused effort by government and industry to provide better information on further education and the opportunities for technicians.

The action plan also urges politicians, education providers and the wider business community to support and promote local careers fairs, and for politicians and businesses to proactively champion GCSE design and technology courses in their local area. According to 2017 figures, design and technology has disappeared from nearly half of schools.

This plan is the start of the journey and one, as a member of the Science and Technology Committee, I will continue to champion. I look forward to continuing to work with colleagues, industry and education providers to promote and celebrate engineering, and particularly to increase the diversity of young people who join the profession. Our future depends on it. 

Vicky Ford is Conservative MP for Chelmsford and a member of the Science and Technology Committee

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