Comment: why we should all take action to inspire tomorrow's engineers

Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive of EngineeringUK, explains how individual engineers and technicians can get involved with the drive to inform and inspire more young people into engineering and tech careers

It’s well accepted that if we are going to address the skills shortage and enable engineering and technology to thrive, we need to encourage more young people, from all backgrounds, to work in these areas. However, this is a complex challenge. How can we expect young people to aspire to a job that they might not even realise exists, or if they misunderstand what it involves and who it might suit? Many young people will have little experience of engineering and tech, or no engineers in their social or family circles, so we have a big job on our hands to demystify engineering to young people.

There can be a great deal of focus on what employers can do to inspire the next generation and, while their outreach work is a vital piece of the puzzle, we must remember the important actions that individuals can take – without relying solely on employers.

Can I ask you to consider how you, personally, can make a difference to inspiring the next generation? Whether you are time-poor or have more availability, there are plenty of ways you can help. Here are some practical actions you could take.

  • Show your support for careers inspiration campaigns and activities

There are many campaigns out there which aim to inform and inspire young people into engineering-related careers - from our annual Tomorrow’s Engineers Week to national awareness occasions such as Nationals Careers Week. Your support can be as quick and simple as liking and sharing a social media post, or it can be more involved such as contributing your own blog article or taking part in a video interview. Keep an eye out for these campaigns and the ways in which you can get involved.

  • Share your own career story with young people

You have made the journey we want young people to imagine for themselves, so please tell your story! You can help students in school today imagine what working in engineering or tech could be like.

We promote a range of case studies to young people and teachers on our Neon website and we’re always on the look out for more, so do get in touch if you’d be interested in sharing your story. This isn’t just about showcasing individuals who are at the pinnacle of their career, work for a FTSE 100 company or rub shoulders with the stars. It’s about sharing real and authentic stories that young people can relate to, which is why stories from ordinary people - particularly those at the early stages of their careers or that convey what excites them about their work - often resonate best.

  • Seek out STEM volunteering opportunities

At EngineeringUK we have a range of exciting volunteering opportunities available. For example, you could be a volunteer judge for our much-loved Big Bang Competition or volunteer at our action-packed Big Bang Fair in Birmingham’s NEC on 21-23 June – the largest celebration of STEM in the UK. We also always need volunteers for our school-based activities, such as our Energy Quest. This involves visiting a school to support a half or full day workshop, or you can even join virtually for a fifteen minute Q & A session. We still have volunteering opportunities available for this spring/summer – so please do take a look.

Becoming a registered STEM ambassador is another brilliant option. Run by STEM learning, this enables volunteers who are passionate about STEM subjects, including those working in STEM, to share their time and enthusiasm with schools or the community. It’s flexible, with the time given and activities supported being up to the individual. Professional Engineering Institutions also often have volunteering opportunities, so you could also see what they have available.

Employers are often keen to support volunteering, with many offering dedicated ‘volunteering days’, so do make the most of this if it’s available to you.

  • Consider teaching STEM subjects

This is the big-ticket item if you really want to make a difference! There is a real shortage of STEM teachers in the UK, particularly in subjects relating to engineering and technology, such as physics, maths, computer science and design and technology. Teachers with an engineering and tech background can bring a unique perspective into the classroom and help bring these subjects to life.

Many Further Education colleges offer positions that allow professionals to teach alongside their existing career, meaning you don’t have to give up your regular job. Or, if you are considering a complete change of career, training to become a STEM teacher could be a great option to explore.

No matter how big or small your contribution might be, please consider getting involved! You could make a huge difference to young people’s lives, and they are just as likely to inspire you too along the way.

Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive of EngineeringUK,