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Engineering could be one of the most poorly understood STEM careers

13 September 2019

Royal Academy of Engineering highlights that misconceptions about engineers and lack of understanding of the profession means young people are missing opportunities to make a difference to our world.

Engineering could be one of the most poorly understood STEM careers, with new research from EngineeringUK showing that over three quarters (76%) of young people aged 11-19 do not know a lot about what those working in engineering do – and this could have far-reaching implications for all of us.

Indeed, according to the World Economic Forum, there are many engineering roles that will be crucial in positively shaping our future society and protecting our environment. However, the UK has an annual shortfall of up to 59,000 engineers every year, and research shows that the majority of young people aged 11-19 ‘probably or definitely’ do not want to become an engineer (52%). 

Their parents need support in developing a greater understanding of engineering as well: 72% of parents do not know a lot about what people working in the profession do, and yet 63% of 11-16-year olds would consider going to their parents for careers advice.

The World Economic Forum has identified a number of jobs that will be in demand in the future and are crucial to shaping the world we live in for the better – and many of these important roles involve engineering: 

• New Technology Specialists, who will make solar and wind energy more flexible and reliable by advancing energy storage capacity so that we can store vast amounts of energy from renewable sources to help us meet peak demand, mitigate future energy crises, and move away from carbon-emitting fuels. 

• Information Security Analysts, who will make cyberspace safer, for example by preventing cyber-attacks or developing blockchain technologies that enable authenticated and transparent digital voting 

Software and Applications Developers and Analysts, who will, for example, enhance virtual reality (VR) for use in healthcare. Engineers are already developing virtual reality healthcare systems, complete with treadmills, to help people with Parkinson’s improve mobility, and exploring applications of VR that help sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and stroke. 

• Innovation Professionals who will, for example, provide access to clean water in the developing world, and improve water efficiency in developed countries through new strategies for reducing water use. 

While the research shows 42% of young people aged 11-19 said that ‘making a difference’ or ‘having an impact’ would be an important factor to them when deciding upon a career, almost half had not ever thought about becoming an engineer. 

With an ambition to turn engineering from one of the most poorly understood, to one of the best understood and in-demand careers, the Royal Academy of Engineering is launching This is Engineering Day on the 6 November as part of Tomorrow’s Engineers Week. This is Engineering Day is a new national awareness day to increase understanding of what an engineer is and to celebrate the roles that will contribute to shaping our futures.

Hayaatun Sillem, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says: “Engineering and technology play an incredible role in shaping the world around us and in addressing some of society’s biggest challenges, from providing a sustainable supply of food, water and clean energy, to advancing healthcare, and keeping us safe and secure. We know that young people increasingly want to tackle these issues and make a difference in the world, but unfortunately the lack of understanding around engineering is stopping them from exploring careers that will enable them to do this. 

“This matters because we face an estimated shortfall of up to 59,000 engineers each year in the UK, and there is a pressing need to diversify our engineering workforce since only 12% of professional engineers are female and less than 9% are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. That’s why we’re making 6 November This is Engineering Day, to raise awareness of what an engineer is and celebrate those that are shaping the world we live in.”

This is Engineering Day is part of the This is Engineering campaign, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering to give more young people, from all backgrounds, the opportunity to take up engineering careers. More information on the campaign can be found at www.ThisisEngineering.org.uk and @ThisisEng on Twitter.


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