Engineering can be awe inspiring – and it’s up to us to make sure the next generation know it too

The world of engineering can undoubtedly be inspiring, with new technologies and ways of thinking enabling some breath-taking feats. And yet, despite this, the engineering sector is still facing a shortage of new recruits. Here, we explore how focussing more on the modern, exciting work that engineers do could help to inspire young people in a more effective way. 

It’s a well-known fact that the engineering sector is facing an ongoing skills crisis. Engineering UK has stated that we will need 1.8 million new engineers and technicians by 2025 if we are to meet the engineering needs of our future society. Yet, when surveyed, almost half (47%) of 11–19-year-olds – the very generation that some of these 1.8 million engineers would come from - stated they knew little or almost nothing about what engineers do.¹  

Clearly, there is an urgent need to change the way in which we present engineering to the world and our young people. Sadly, many of the civil engineering projects that make the mainstream news headlines tend to have a negative spin on them, whether due to falling behind schedule, going over budget or generating controversy. Even headlines relating to the skills crisis, the very thing we are trying to resolve, are perhaps working against us, portraying engineering as something of a lost and dying industry. 

With our children (and even many adults) not knowing what a civil engineer is or does, it is clearly our responsibility, as engineers and as an industry, to attract the next generation and help raise awareness of the exciting and varied opportunities that a career in engineering can present. By appealing to what the younger generation are interested in, whether that’s saving the planet, creating the tallest buildings or imagining new technology, we can help to bring engineering to life.

STEM Education Programmes, such as the one Mabey Hire has been delivering over the last three years, are one way of delivering on this responsibility as an industry and an organisation, bringing the world of engineering into schools, right at the pivotal point when so many children start forming ideas of their future career paths. By encouraging Year 6 and 7 children to think like engineers, explore principles in a fun and interactive way and bring engineering to life, we can help to break down these barriers and misconceptions; showing that it is a career accessible to anyone with imagination, passion and a drive to make an impact on the world. With teachers in many ways responsible for inspiring the next generation of engineers, it is perhaps as much about educating teachers as it is about educating children, providing them with the STEM tools they need.

Elsewhere on this journey to engage and inspire, steps have even been taken to bring engineering to the big screen, with one example being the Dream Big film by Bechtel – a great resource for students and teachers.  A two-minute video in the style of a blockbuster movie trailer, with narration by Academy Award® winner Jeff Bridges, it portrays engineering as something thrilling and a means of realising the impossible, with a particular focus on younger people: “meet the next generation of dreamers who will shape our future, powered only by imagination”.

The Shaping Zero film by ICE President Rachel Skinner, part of her ICE Presidential Inauguration, is another example of this change in the representation of engineering, seeking to inspire and showcase civil engineers as being those best placed to help save the planet and initiate sustainable change: “We are the world’s inventors, innovators and practical problem solvers.” 

Moving forward, there needs to be more of this emphasis on highlighting the positive aspects of the industry and its modern role models, especially when looking to appeal to younger people, showcasing engineering as something exciting and modern. As engineers, we all know that it is an incredibly innovative and rewarding industry, offering people the opportunity to help build and shape the future, put their own stamp on the world and be a part of something big. 

At Mabey Hire, we’ve been delivering our 16-week STEM Education Programme in schools across the country, with help from our Programme Partners, including Morgan Sindall Infrastructure and Osborne. Our emphasis is on making civil engineering fun, with our passionate and enthusiastic team of STEM Ambassadors and use of LEGO® Education materials, virtual reality headsets and team challenges, all designed to showcase engineering as the amazing, forward-thinking and digitally innovative industry it is.

¹ Engineering UK 2020: “Educational Pathways into Engineering”

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