Tackling the talent pipeline

2 min read

The Paul Jackson Column No single group can have a monopoly on the development of engineers: employers, teachers, universities and trade unions must all play a role, says the chief executive of EngineeringUK

Thanks in large part to the engineering community, it is now widely recognised across government, employers and education that support and involvement from engineering industry could be hugely beneficial for students, from top to bottom of the education system. Businesses can help schools, colleges and universities to equip young people with the skills and knowledge relevant to the current demands of engineering businesses.

Done well, employers have a great deal to offer education. They can ensure that students’ learning is relevant to the world of work, advising on the delivery of apprenticeships, degree courses, the science, design and technology and maths curriculum in schools, and contributing to enhancement activities.

Businesses have a lot to offer teachers; there is an opportunity here to help teachers to understand the skills needed by engineering industry and the wealth of careers that studying science and maths subjects can lead to for their students.

The engineering community also has an opportunity to work within the gap left by Connexions by supporting schools in delivering their new statutory duty to provide careers information, advice and guidance. In doing so, we can get the message through to young people that studying maths and science at A-Level keeps their options open and can lead to exciting, well-paid engineering careers. Good careers inspiration can imbue school subjects with purpose, lifting them out of the abstract and connecting them with the world of work.

Career power: Students from the City od London Academy demonstrate a Big Bang project to power Christmas tree lights using a battery made of Brussels sprouts

This is a tall order, so we how do we make sure this is done properly across the board?  There are a number of good, well-intentioned initiatives out there, run by businesses, charities and professional bodies alike. However, without coordination, quality-control and robust evaluation, none of them will become large enough to make a national impact.

In the past couple of days, I’ve had top level discussions with Unite and EEF, and we’re close to singing from the same hymn sheet. Support of science, technology, engineering and maths education must be joined-up, collaborative and well-coordinated in order to make an effective, sustainable impact on the engineering talent-pipeline.

”Our aim is for every child in the UK to have experienced direct engineering engagement.

Universities also have the potential to play a crucial role in engaging young people, and in particular in appealing to girls. They are well placed to work with employers and schools to make an impact, so it’s important that more get involved. We currently have 17 universities involved in The Big Bang Fair, which leaves many more which could be making their mark.

In partnership with Professional Engineering Institutions, EngineeringUK is working to join up the dots through its schools engagement and careers inspiration programme, Tomorrow’s Engineers. By working together, we can take the best of what the engineering community has to offer and ensure sustained interventions, underpinned by robust careers information and resources. Under one roof, we can apply meaningful evaluation to the programme, allowing us to reliably measure the impact of our combined efforts.   

If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right, and the impact of the Tomorrow’s Engineers model is already paying off.  The programme engages a 50/50split of boys and girls and the 2013 evaluation showed that almost half thought engineering was a desirable career as a result of the engagement, compared to a 39% national average. 53% of those who’ve taken part in the programme say they know what engineers do, compared to the UK average of 30%. But we need to do more and we need to make it bigger. Our aim is for every child in the UK to have experienced direct engineering engagement. And with the challenge of doubling the engineering talent-pipeline by 2020, we need to build on this foundation and grow quickly.