Hilary Leevers, CEO of EngineeringUK
With lockdown and restrictions affecting everything from socialising to exams, there’s no denying that there is much that young people might be worrying about. The future feels uncertain too; a recent survey found that the majority of 11 to 19 year olds feel that the coronavirus pandemic will make finding a job or undertaking higher education more difficult. While it is important that young people remain realistic about the challenges facing them, I want them to feel that their dreams are worth pursuing. There are still amazing career opportunities out there, and ways to bring these aspirations to life.
When it comes to young peoples’ aspirations, it is fantastic that so many are focused on choosing careers that make a positive difference to the world. Nine out of ten young people want a career that tackles social issues, from addressing environmental issues to keeping people safe and well. We also know that factors such as job opportunity and security are really important too, especially at this time of change.
For many young people, the job security and real fulfilment they seek could be found in engineering.
The engineering industry is incredibly diverse, with exciting career opportunities in everything from space and energy to design and food, sport and entertainment to gaming and technology. Engineers are at the forefront of shaping the world we live in, helping to solve our biggest challenges. From dealing with cyber security and minimising the impact of natural disasters to developing sustainable energy, food, housing and products – engineers help pave the way to a better future for everyone.
You can make flying more environmentally friendly as an aerospace engineer or drive the use of renewable energy as an electrical or energy engineer. Biomedical engineers develop life-saving equipment and chemical engineers can stop the spread of disease. While, as a manufacturing engineer you could develop new ways of creating medical products. Mechanical engineering could see you designing prosthetic limbs and you can support international development or disaster recovery as a civil or structural engineer.
Recently, the coronavirus crisis has shone a spotlight on the brilliant work of scientists, technicians and engineers responding to the needs of the nation. We’ve seen exceptional examples of engineering across essential services and infrastructure – from the design and delivery of thousands of ventilators to the building of NHS Nightingale field hospitals. In fact, over three quarters of young people said they recognised the importance of engineers to developing new ventilators, keeping people connected through the crisis and turning spaces like exhibitions centres into hospitals.
As an engineer it’s possible you can save far more lives than as a medic. This is a powerful message but one that sometimes gets lost in the stereotypes that many people still hold about what an engineer is, and what they do.
The beauty of engineering is that it is just so diverse – not just in the range of problems engineers solve but in the types of people and the pathways they take into the industry. You don’t have to be a mathematical genius or chemistry wizard to become an engineer. A good understanding of maths and science (especially physics) will stand you in great stead, but so will skills in computing, D&T, construction, electronics. At its heart, engineering is all about creativity, problem-solving, teamwork and curiosity.
Engineers come from all different backgrounds and have achieved success through very different routes into the industry, including through apprenticeships, vocational training and university degrees. Employers and organisations like EngineeringUK have responded to our current crisis by making sure that information, advice, guidance and engineering experiences are now available online and remotely. The industry has really stepped up to support young people to explore their future and potential as engineers, including by pledging to work together to make engineering careers accessible for this generation of young people. If there are upsides of our current coronavirus world, it is that for young people, accessing engineering experiences can be done at any time, from anywhere.
Skills that engineers acquire – such as problem-solving, teamwork, project management and numeracy – are sought after by employers in nearly every industry, meaning that engineers are highly employable and can easily transfer their skills to different areas. Even though the pandemic is seeing shifts in the engineering workforce, employers are still reporting skills gaps, so there remains significant demand for engineering skills, with fantastic earning potential at all levels. And with the government’s commitments to investing in infrastructure, construction and decarbornisation, and innovation, now and into the future, hundreds of thousands more engineers will be needed.
At a time when young people are unsure about their futures, it is so important that they can explore career options, plan ahead, and be motivated to study. Now’s not the time to give up or feel frustrated. It’s the time to explore, plan and access as much support as possible to lay the path towards a fulfilling and secure career.
My message is that, while there are challenges ahead, there are also amazing career opportunities – not least in the world of engineering. I truly believe the future is bright for young people. Their desire to pursue careers that make a difference will bring them fulfilment and continue to help the UK engineering sector soar.
To support schools to access Covid-secure engineering resources and experiences, EngineeringUK recently launched Neon, a digital platform that gives teachers easy access to quality assured online and offline engineering outreach activities. For the first time, Neon brings together the UK’s engineering experiences and career resources in one place, bringing STEM careers to life. With the support of the engineering community, Neon empowers teachers with the tools they need to engage young people in a career in the engineering sector, which makes up nearly 20% of the workforce.