Creating home grown engineers

Written by the Institute of Engineering and Technology

How do we make sure students are engaged with STEM subjects and make more informed choices about their future careers?

According to the Joint Council for Qualifications, there has been a fall this year in the number of students sitting A-level mathematics, physics and design & technology exams. We are again reminded that more needs to be done to make STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects more appealing to students.

In educational circles, consensus is that we need to nurture students’ interest in STEM from an early age. Research commissioned by the IET found that 9-12 year olds have formed opinions on STEM subjects and that there are already differences between girls’ and boys’ attitudes. Girls are less likely to enjoy STEM subjects, and are more likely to say they find them difficult or that they are not good at them.

This trend is concerning, particularly as there is growing demand for STEM professionals in the UK.

Encouraging home grown talent
The IET’s 2016 Skills & Demand in Industry Survey confirmed that there is a nationwide shortage of engineers in the UK, highlighting the need to develop home‑grown talent to deliver the engineering and technology workforce employers are seeking. When asked about the impact of Brexit on their recruitment plans, 40 per cent of those surveyed believe that their recruitment will be negatively impacted over the next four to five years now that Britain is to leave the EU – and a further 36 per cent say they don’t know, while only five per cent said they thought it would have a positive impact. This makes the challenge of attracting, educating, training and developing the home-grown engineering and technology workforce even more crucial.

Government and industry must work together to create a long-term strategy to develop home-grown engineering talent, which includes putting greater emphasis on offering quality work experience and making sure that any future immigration policy will support growth of the UK’s engineering industry.

The survey also revealed 62 per cent of engineering employers say graduates don’t have the right skills for today’s workplace, while 68 per cent are concerned that the education system will struggle to keep up with the skills required for technological change.

To address these growing concerns over skills gaps in the engineering workforce, particularly among graduates and school leavers, 91 per cent of companies agreed that to improve the supply of engineers and technicians, more employers need to provide work experience for those in education or training.

Work experience
In response, the IET is launching a new campaign: ‘Engineering Work Experience for All’ to champion the need for more employers and universities to collaborate to offer quality work experience to engineering students.

The campaign is designed to rally employers, universities, government and students to make a range of different, quality work experience opportunities more widespread.

The survey also revealed that only nine per cent of engineering and technology staff are female. Students – particularly girls – need to be made aware that STEM subjects are the gateway to exciting and creative careers, which can make a difference to people’s lives, but which can also offer plenty of prospects and high earning potential.

Faraday Challenge Days
So how do we make sure students are engaged with STEM subjects and make more informed choices about their future studies and careers? The IET runs a Faraday programme, which provides resources and activities for teachers who want to do exactly this.

IET Faraday brings STEM subjects to life with Faraday Challenge Days in your school, and a whole host of free online teaching resources, showing students how the real-life applications of what they are learning in class are making a real difference to people in all walks of life.

The IET deliver free STEM-based competitions in schools for students aged 12-13 years. Students are split into teams and in a race against the clock, have to research, design and make a prototype solution to an engineering problem. Last academic year, the ‘challenge’ for students was to code and program their own BBC micro:bits to solve a real-life engineering problem. One hundred and twenty six Faraday Challenge Days took place last season, delivering STEM education to young people in a fun and practical way. Students also gained insight into engineering as a career and built on valuable skills such as teamwork and problem-solving.

STEM teaching resources
Imagine if we could show young people how some engineers get to watch football for a living, or develop software enabling Britain’s swimmers improve their technique and ultimately win more gold medals? Maybe they’d like to explore the technology which is turning sewage into drinking water?

The IET hosts a website of resources for teaching secondary science, design & technology, computing and mathematics in a relevant and engaging way.

Resources include case studies on engineers who use STEM in their day‑to‑day roles, classroom activities to drop into lessons including the new coding activities for students who have been given a BBC micro:bit and curriculum support posters for the classroom. For students who are looking at their career options and the teachers who are advising them, there are free career packs on engineering.

STEM Education news
The IET collaborates with education partners to circulate a free monthly e-newsletter, featuring STEM and computing teaching resources, as well as events and enrichment activities for teachers and their students. To receive the newsletter, register or login to our website, where you will have the option to opt-in for it.

For more information on the IET and our initiatives to promote STEM subjects and careers in the classroom, visit our website.

Further information