Stephen Metcalfe is MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock, and Government Envoy for the Year of Engineering
Engineering shapes many aspects of our lives and is crucial in helping make Britain fit for the 21st Century and beyond.
It makes possible the things you would expect, like improving our infrastructure, but also the development of the technologies we rely on every day.
It also helps to address challenges such as cleaner energy, and plays a key role in everything from film, festivals, and food to medicine, music, theatre and travel.
Engineering is one of the most productive sectors in the UK, but provisional findings from a forthcoming EngineeringUK report identify an annual demand of at least 124,000 engineers and technicians with core engineering skills. This could increase exponentially with the skills demands from new industries, some of which scarcely yet exist, emerging from new technologies and research.
The engineering profession is also hampered by a lack of diversity – the workforce is 91 per cent male and 94 per cent white – and a lack of understanding among young people of the vast wealth of opportunities available.
Recent research from the Institution of Engineering and Technology on what schoolchildren think a ‘typical’ engineer looks like gives us an indication of the problem. Of a representative sample of children aged 9 to 16, 44 per cent imagined that they would wear a hard hat, and 40 per cent thought they’d wear a hi-vis jacket. Sixty seven per cent said that in their mind a typical engineer is male, and 51 per cent thought they would be white.
We need to tackle this perception to promote the industry to our next generation of tech, fashion and sport engineers.
That’s why the government has launched the Year of Engineering, a pioneering initiative to transform the way young people see engineering and help boost the numbers entering the profession. Ministers and Parliamentarians from across government have joined forces with engineers, industry experts, educators, and hundreds of businesses to change perceptions of engineering – and highlight the variety of opportunities that working as an engineer offers.
I’m really proud to be the Government’s ambassador for the Year of Engineering, and to see the contributions that partners are making to raise awareness of their profession. We had fantastic support at the launch, but this is just the beginning.
Early last year YouTube released statistics that showed that one billion hours of video are watched on its platform every day. For young people videos are the new books, and the Royal Academy of Engineering, a partner in the year, has launched a campaign targeted at 13-18 year-olds – This Is Engineering – based on this insight
This is Engineering is centred on the channels teenagers typically spend time on – social and digital media – and the topics they like to talk about. The campaign’s research found that Generation Z is looking for a career that allows them to bring ideas to life, shape the future, help others, and make a difference.
Subsequent research by YouGov revealed that young people want careers that reflect what they’re passionate about, with the majority wanting to start conversations about their future by talking about what they’re interested in today.
The campaign aims to bring engineering to life through real young engineers who have pursued what they love into a career, and are sharing their stories with young people online. By providing young people with role models they can identify with, the Academy is perfectly illustrating what engineering looks like today, and how young people can pursue a career in a field they’re already interested in by joining the profession.
Videos from the campaign have already been watched more than 3.5 million times, and early research indicates that they are more likely to consider engineering as a career as a result, with an astonishing rise in consideration of 142 per cent among females.
We as politicians can learn from this by tapping into young people’s interests and engaging with them in new and exciting ways. We can also get on board and inspire future engineers – the This is Engineering digital content is available to everyone to use and share.
By engaging with the next generation we can start a conversation and help young people find the careers they love and deserve, and that shape a future that we all benefit from.
The Year of Engineering can be found tweeting @YoEgovuk and This is Engineering @ThisIsEng