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How do we promote engineering as a career choice?

18 November 2019

As we approach a general election, the political parties have all made commitments to increase training and education. This should be good news for the engineering sector…

One of the biggest challenges we face is the lack of qualified engineers, but we will only be able to take advantage of our fair share of the billion’s politicians are offering for training, if there are sufficient people that want to become engineers.

The first thing that the engineering profession needs to recognise is that we are not alone: a quick search reveals teaching, construction, nursing, care, farming and many other industries discussing a lack of people entering their profession and debating how they might garner more interest through promotion of their career. 

It’s not a lack of marketing skills that is holding us back: even the PRCA (the world’s largest organisation for public relations professionals) is running campaigns to encourage more people to choose PR as a career!

There is a lot of good news: we are doing many things to make engineering more attractive to young people. Only a week ago, DPA reported a visit by the Prince of Wales to NMiTE (New Model in Technology and Engineering), a venture in Hereford that has the impressively ambitious goal of being the first wholly new UK university in forty years. The IET is proactively encouraging children to take up engineering with a range of campaigns. The IET website, however, reveals how difficult promoting a career can be as even this excellent organisation lists a few “current campaigns” that are rather dated.

I’m also a huge fan of apprenticeships and believe that the engineering industry has some of the best apprenticeship programmes in the country. They let people learn whilst they work in engineering, and it’s clear that many companies are showing their commitment by delivering an outstanding experience and offering to pay substantially more than the minimum apprenticeship wage to encourage the best candidates into the industry.

With all this good work, why is it that engineering isn’t standing out as a great career choice and attracting crowds of candidates?

I think one issue is the lack of great word-of-mouth recommendations. Although engineers are characterised as being one of the less social professions, we understand word-of-mouth better than most. It’s a truth of marketing to engineers that in any research about the factors that influence how we select products, information from colleagues is at, or near, the top. Engineers know that specifications and data often tell only part of the story, so the only way to understand the benefits and drawbacks of a particular product is to talk to someone who has experienced designing with it.

This isn’t just conjecture: there have been many studies analysing the impact of word-of-mouth on the likelihood of candidates choosing to work with a particular company, and word-of-mouth is now a key part of what’s called “employer branding”. Logically the same factors should extend to careers.

Unfortunately, we’re not good at recognising that context affects how word of mouth recommendations should be delivered. Engineers are problem-solvers, so we tend to talk in problems. This is great when discussing a product: you need to know what you must address to maximise the benefit of choosing one component over another. When discussing careers, however, it’s terrible, as people want to hear the good things about a particular job, rather than all the negatives.

Fixing the engineering talent shortage is vital, not just for engineering but for the whole country. If the politicians deliver on their promises of funding for training, we have an opportunity that we must take advantage of to train more engineers.

To do this, we need to improve the quality of the word-of-mouth recommendations we give about engineering careers. I’m calling on all engineers to become marketers the next time they talk about jobs. Let’s forget our natural tendency to find and solve problems, focus on the things that make engineering a great career choice, and encourage more people to join our profession.

Please do try this: I’d love to hear your stories about what happened when you talked positively about why engineering is a good career choice. Email me at mike@napierb2b.com or connect with me on LinkedIn.


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