The Queen Elizabeth Prize Create the Future report surveyed over 10,000 people across ten of the world’s major economies: Brazil, China, Germany, India, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, the UK, and the USA. 57 per cent of respondents said engineering is critical in solving the world’s problems, with particularly strong sentiment coming from the UK, USA and Germany.
Sectors where engineers are seen as crucial to advances include renewables, computer technology, infrastructure, healthcare, and online security. Interestingly, people of all age groups agreed that solving the world’s problems should take precedence over the problems of their individual countries.
“As an engineer, I am enormously encouraged to see that the public thinks engineers are capable of solving the world’s greatest problems,” said Lord Browne, chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation.
“It is also encouraging to see that people think the priority for engineers should be improving renewable energy and healthcare, not just traditional engineering infrastructure such as bridges and buildings.”
“However, the report also highlights some of the perception problems that the engineering community continues to face. Without combatting the lack of understanding surrounding our profession and changing persistent stereotypes, we will not attract the next generation of engineers to meet the challenges of the future.”
The perception problems referred to by Lord Browne are especially evident in the UK. Of the ten markets surveyed, the UK public was found to be the least interested in engineering. Despite UK participants recognising engineering as a stimulating and rewarding career, this did not correspond to interest in the topic, particularly amongst 16 and 17 year olds. Just 20 per cent in that age group claimed interest in engineering, compared to around 80 per cent in India and Turkey.
Though more men than women in all countries show an interest in engineering, the gap is narrowest in emerging economies. The countries with the greatest gender disparity were the UK, Japan and South Africa.
“Our sector needs to work together to overcome some of the outdated stereotypes and old-fashioned notions that engineering isn’t a career suitable for women,” said Nigel Whitehead, group managing director at BAE Systems.
“We must do more to show all young people, and their parents, that engineering is a great career choice and be bolder about the importance of STEM subjects.”