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Fuelling the engineering talent pipeline with parent power

It’s a given that parents are hugely influential on their children’s choices. Your parents and your wider family pretty much dictate the way you see the world and your role within it. Regardless of the numerous times you claim to ‘be ignoring’ your parents as a teenager, they have the power to influence your subject choices at school and ultimately your career path. 

As a parent, and someone with a lifelong love of engineering, I know how important it is that young people understand where science and maths subjects can take them. However, if we want to have enough engineers in the future, it’s not enough for those parents in the know to encourage their children to go into engineering; we have to spread the message further.


Students need advice and experience to understand what an engineering career might involve.

We all want to provide the best guidance we can but parents can’t be the experts in everything. That’s why it’s so important for the engineering community to work together to ensure that engineering careers are represented in Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance for young people.

EngineeringUK recently conducted some research* into how we can best inform and support parents through our programmes The Big Bang Fair, Tomorrow’s Engineers and the careers information and resources which underpin them. The majority of parents thought access to careers advice was important: 95 per cent thought careers advice in schools was important for enabling young people to make informed decisions about their subject choices and the same again said it was important in helping them to make career choices.

“Only four parents in ten would be confident to advise their children about a career in engineering

The fact that only half of parents in the UK feel confident to give advice about careers on the whole and only four in every ten would be confident to advise their children about a career in engineering underlines the opportunity that we have to help fill that gap.   The Big Bang programme provides the platform for the science, technology, engineering and technology community (business and industry, government, education, professional bodies and charities) to do just that.

The Big Bang is underpinned by curriculum-linked information and resources that young people, parents and teachers can access at any time. But the best way to really understand the breath of opportunity that science, technology, engineering and maths can open up to young people is to see it for yourself of course. In the first week of booking 25,000 people booked a place, three times the rate of last year.

The Big Bang Fair enables young people and parents to find out first-hand about the amazing opportunities that science and maths subjects can lead to. They canask their burning questions in the careers resources areaand meet inspiring engineers and scientists from some of the biggest and most interesting companies in the UK.

The Big Bang Fair takes place from 14 – 17 March 2013 at ExCeL London. We work with over 170 organisations, which share our commitment to inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers. If you feel the same way, parent or not, then I urge you to get in involved.

Paul Jackson is chairman of EngineeringUK

*EngineeringUK Careers Advice Survey undertaken by Populus on 3 -7 October 2012.

Readers' comments (12)

  • I agree that parents do have an influence on their childs career path.
    My son wanted to go into mechanical engineering after doing work experience at Jaguar Landrover. However I advised him that Civil Engineering would be a better choice. This was due to the number of manufacturing plants closing down (and still closing down) and moving to so called "Low Cost" economies.
    I am sure that the same happens in a lot of families. By the way my son is now working as a Civil Engineer in Australia as engineers are better appreciated in that country. We have a long way to go to correct that situation.

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  • Please, please, please, will politicians, teachers and university academics please stop banging on about careers in science and engineering... they just don't exist.
    My son has just finished university with a masters in physics after both he and i listened to all the great advice from these people. He is still out of work with absolutely no prospects of getting a job in either science or engineering.

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  • You can hold your Big Bang exhibitions in London or wherever else you choose but is this really enough. Whilst it might be fun for the exhibitors, giving them a feeling of doing good works, but where is the long term involvement with young people. The engineering professional bodies have to come down from their academic towers and look more to the roots where the future engineers are to come from. It is really unhelpful when these august organisations lend currency to the populist view that all the work a youngster has put in to earn good grades in his/her A levels is wasted because they are too easy. What a way to start an engineering career. How discouraging is it when established engineers gripe about our perceived status? Why should any starry eyed youngster want to be an engineer when all that is heard is negativity.

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  • Parents will always have a biased view of any profession. If my son or daughter wants to pursue a career in engineering then I will support and advise, but my current advice to them is that the rewards and recognition are very poor compared to other professions. Unless this changes the UK is destined to become a service industry, with manufacturing, R&D & engineering disappearing overseas.

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  • My only regret is that I didn't record some of the conversations we had with some of the "career advisors". My son has spent 3 years at uni and returned home last year with a physics degree, plus no hope and no prospects. Had I recorded some of the advice recieved by the "professionals" we could have made a tidy living suing them, which would only fall in with what the rest of the country is doing..

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  • Parents are hugely influential to the decisions their children makes but what is missing here is the voice of parents who do NOT know what it is to be an engineer. My PhD delved into this area and found that approximately 75% of undergraduate engineering students (B/MEng courses at 3 strong engineering universities, total 1000 UG students (100ish female)) had a parent, family member or family friend who was an engineer. This factor led to an understanding of what it is to be an engineer and a belief that they could be a good engineer. If parents only have the media and stereotypes as their starting point, with no real understanding of engineering, then why would they point their children to such a career? If companies want engineers, and good ones, then they need to be working with parents, schools and young people of all ages, repeatedly and regularly, not simply at age 16 or 17 when the majority of their views on subject choice and careers have been formulated, and quite often, fixed.

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  • To those parents with children with Physics degrees - Physics is an excellent grounding for programming and in the games industry we are crying out for good programmers! The pay isn't astronomical but it's not bad and it's full time permanent work. Hope this is helpful. (See for details of jobs in games.)

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  • No, a degree in a science and engineering subject, no matter what it is, won't guarantee you a job. We're in a recession, there's few jobs around, and no one is funding this stuff. Your kids need to keep going, keep trying, and they will find something. But it won't come to you on a plate just for being 'good with numbers', whatever careers advisors -not often science qualified-say.

    My Tips - work on soft skills (comms, presentations, teamwork) do internships and experience if you can (but get yourself compensated), and be prepared to move country.

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  • Grandparents may be the key here. Kids today don't just need A levels and a degree in engineering or physics - great though that is. I look for real practical skills in interviewees and a 'feel' for what will work and what won't that you only get by making stuff - doing projects. These could be anything from motor mechanics to the backyard science projects I do with kids. And I reckon that grandparents can help this happen. First, they may have the engineering background that many of today's parents missed out on as engineering in the UK contracted. Second, they may have the time to spend with much-loved grandchildren. Thirdly, they may have the facilities - the space, the shed, yes, and the Meccano.

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  • Ah, the usual bleatings.

    We do not have enough GOOD engineering graduates. Simple fact. Many are literally unemployable, their Degrees worthless; for this the Universities, Institutions and Governments must be blamed. Degrading degrees so that everyone can have one is not about getting a better qualified workforce; it is about keeping pressure off the jobs market in an economy destroyed by Labour profligacy.

    The fact remains that good Engineers with good degrees from real Universities can look forward to a good, well paid career (better paid than many, less well piad than some), doing a job that is, frankly, more fun than most things you can do out of bed, and certainly in public.

    The examples where the system has let them down, leaving me for example needing to teach them standards of maths and science that we had to have to get an offer of a place at University, along with English to, say eleven plus standard, is a tragedy, but not relevant to the fact that we do not produce enough good quality Engineering graduates. This is helping to drive work overseas as well.

    I am surprised that 4/10 parents were considered able to advise their children on careers in Engineering. If the whining usually found in this column is representative, many so-called Engineers are not capable of doing so.

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