The pathway to a STEM career

What can schools and educators do to break down the barriers for getting more girls and people from BAME backgrounds staying on STEM education pathways? EngineeringUK shares some thoughts

At EngineeringUK we are passionate about demystifying the world of engineering to inspire all young people, whatever their background, to consider a career in engineering.

Working in collaboration with educators, government and industry, we aim to grow and diversify the talent pool and help young people realise their potential.
Engineers have a specific skillset and play a vital role in shaping our world, from where we live and how we communicate, to what we do for leisure. They are the thread that allows our society to function and they have an impact like no other professional group
Over a quarter of UK enterprises are involved in engineering, employing more than five and a half million people. Demand for engineering skills is high and will continue to rise in the future – EngineeringUK estimates the UK will need around 203,000 roles requiring engineering skills to be filled annually through to 2024.

Increasing diversity

There’s a critical shortfall in the young people on pathways to fill these jobs that won’t be resolved simply by encouraging more people to take up science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) studies. At EngineeringUK, our commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion emphasises the need to increase the diversity as well as the number of young people choosing academic and vocational pathways into engineering.

We need to recognise the barriers that some groups face in pursuing pathways to STEM education and careers.
EngineeringUK produces a flagship publication called the State of Engineering, which is a detailed examination of engineering’s economic contribution and the composition of its workforce, as well as the extent to which future demand for engineering skills is likely to be met. Our research team has delved deeper into two areas to understand the gender disparity and social mobility in engineering.

Gender disparity in engineering

This research report examined female under-representation in an industry where women make up just 12 per cent of the workforce. It found only 60 per cent of girls aged 11 to 14 think they could become an engineer if they want to, compared to 72 per cent of boys and only a quarter of girls say they would ever consider a career in engineering.
This disparity is largely due to girls dropping out of the educational pathways at every decision point, despite generally performing better than boys in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects at school.

Social mobility in engineering

Further evidence from the EngineeringUK report on social mobility revealed that while young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds have reasonable access to engineering careers, they do not progress at the same rate as their more advantaged peers.

Our analysis suggests great talent is being lost at each educational decision point leading to an under-representation of girls, women and people from some BAME communities especially.
An unequal provision of science-related subjects across the country is a barrier, Ewith deprived areas more likely to face teacher shortages and have STEM subjects taught by non-specialists, and the lack of availability of triple science at GCSE. This potentially affects young people’s opportunity to study subjects like A level Physics, which can have a knock-on effect for undergraduate degrees and routes into engineering careers.
The report also identified patchy careers guidance as an obstacle to social mobility, with students from deprived areas needing more access to high-quality careers guidance.

The case for change

There’s a compelling business case for the sector to harness and widen the talent pool. This goes beyond securing the numbers of engineers we need – workforce diversity improves innovation, creativity, productivity, resilience and market insight, and should enable more people from different backgrounds to benefit from engineering and technology products and services.

This is also about equality – all young people should have equal opportunity in all walks of life. These careers have the potential to break intergenerational cycles of poverty and we believe that all young people should have the opportunity for fulfilling and rewarding careers in engineering.
Many young people are motivated by the opportunity to address global challenges, such as ensuring access to clean water, sanitation and affordable and sustainable energy, but do not realise how central engineering is to solving these problems.

Help us to break down barriers

But what can schools and educators do to break down the barriers for getting more girls and people from BAME backgrounds staying on STEM education pathways? Working in collaboration with charities like us or developing partnerships with local businesses are just a couple of solutions.

Educators can set up or support a STEM or code club in their local schools in partnership with engineering firms and invite diverse speakers or outreach coordinators to deliver activities that excite the next generation of engineers.

Even better, EngineeringUK would encourage schools to consider giving young people the chance to meet industry professionals and really get hands-on with engineering by visiting or hosting a Big Bang Fair. Research shows that interactions with real-life engineers help young people to discover how fulfilling, diverse and exciting careers in modern engineering can be. Literally thousands of these encounters occur each year at the Big Bang Fair, held over four days at the NEC in Birmingham with 80,000 teachers, students and parents attending.  
Visitors to The Big Bang Fair (11-14 March 2020) will get to see amazing new technologies in action; from piloting a drone and building a model jet engine to creating a 3D selfie and seeing inside your own eye.

Giving students opportunities to engage with real-life engineers and scientists is central to all EngineeringUK careers activity and helps support schools to meet some of the key Gatsby benchmarks for Good Careers Guidance.
Other great ways to develop students’ coding and technological skills (as well as interpersonal skills such as teamwork and communication) is to take part in Tomorrow’s Engineers EEP Robotics Challenge and Energy Quest. The Robotics Challenge get students aged 11-14 working together in teams to solve real-world engineering, technology and computing challenges. Facilitated by their teachers who can use the opportunity to grow their technical expertise, students learn how to design, build and control robots to complete a series of challenges and develop and present short research projects into a contemporary engineering problem.

The Tomorrow’s Engineers Energy Quest is also a curriculum-linked, year-round, established programme for schools that helps improve the perception of engineering among both girls and boys. The free programme encourages young people to find out all about sustainable energy and learn about associated engineering careers.
We’re keen to support and work with teachers, schools and careers advisors and have a wealth of resources that can inspire tomorrow’s generation of engineers and help careers advisors or STEM professionals and ambassadors plan effective engineering outreach activity. Good examples of this are This is Engineering videos and Tomorrow’s Engineers careers resources, which can be used as icebreakers or starter questions, and showcase inspiring real-life engineers.
Another free guide ‘Getting the message across’ is a top tips guide for STEM professionals and ambassadors who provide engineering outreach activities in schools, and pulls together the latest thinking and resources around planning successful and impactful outreach activities.
We also have helpful resources for employers who should be looking to attract a more diverse cohort include Engineering work experience, an employer’s guide, created by Tomorrow’s Engineers, Royal Academy of Engineering and industry employers. It might be useful for schools to be aware when they are coordinating work experience with employers.
Collaborative working between educators, policymakers, industry and charities is crucial to success if we are to inspire tomorrow’s engineers.