The first session of the day was introduced by Dr Rhys Morgan, Director of Education and Engineering at the Academy, and focused on the current engineering engagement landscape, making clear the need for high standard public engagement with underserved communities, but also for greater alignment between activities.

 

Key points

  • There are currently 6 million engineers and technicians in the UK
  • Every year in the UK, there is a shortfall of 59,000 people going into engineering careers
  • Women make up just 12% of the profession
  • People from BAME backgrounds make up less than 8% of the profession
  • The skills gap in engineering is not a new problem, and signs show it may get worse
  • The problem has persisted despite the many efforts made to engage young people with engineering

A crowded landscape

In 2016, the Academy published a report – The UK STEM Education Landscape – that found that more than 600 organisations were running efforts to involve young people in engineering.

This includes a lot of programmes and initiatives that have been successful and very well delivered – whether by engineering employers, professional science and engineering institutions, or smaller independent providers of engagement projects.

The Academy has of course been one of the many organisations delivering initiatives – both within and beyond the classroom. We have tried to ensure that these deliver new insights or plug gaps rather than replicate what is already being done.

The Academy’s biggest education programme, the Connecting STEM teachers programme, aims to create a national network of support for teachers across all STEM subjects, ensuring they have the knowledge and confidence to engage a greater number and wider spectrum of school students with STEM.

For more than ten years now, the Academy has also been running Ingenious, the only grant scheme focused exclusively on supporting projects that engage the public with engineering.

 

A persistent problem

The fact that the skills supply is proving hard to improve however cannot be avoided. A few years ago, we set out to do something different to change this, and our first step was to make sure that our approach was rooted in audience research. 

A whole host of research had already been carried out into STEM engagement and participation. But we needed to top it up with something that told us specifically:

  • How teenagers make career choices
  • What they (and their parents) thought of engineering as a career choice

 

Key changes required

The resulting qualitative research didn’t – unfortunately – give us a silver bullet. But it did illustrate the shifts we needed to make:

  • From an environment where young people define themselves as STEM or Non-STEM early on and think that being technically/scientifically-minded and being artistic don’t mix, to defining a middle ground where engineering offers them the opportunity to be both technical and creative
  • From the narrow stereotype of engineering as manual or civil, focused on constructing and building things, to painting a picture of the huge variety the profession offers
  • From a vacuum of relatable role models in engineering who teens want to aspire to be like, to a means of introducing them to real young engineers from all backgrounds with inspiring stories to tell

 

What already appeals?

There was good news in the research too – a lot of what young people say they look for in a career, is what a career in engineering offers. This is what got them excited:

  • Bringing design to life/ideas into reality
  • Shaping the future
  • Making a difference

These findings led to the development of our This is Engineering campaign, launched in January 2018 to encourage more young people from all backgrounds to explore careers in engineering. The campaign took a new approach for the profession: using digital marketing to reach teenagers where they already are, talk to them about topics they are already interested in, such as sport, tech, music, and the environment, and show them that they can follow those things they love into a fulfilling career in engineering.

In its first year, the campaign films were viewed 28 million times, and consideration among teens of engineering as a career increased from 39% to 72% among those who had seen the campaign. In 2019, we will work with partners across the profession to open up the campaign so that it supports other STEM engagement activities, and reaches more young people and their parents.