Getting youngsters into engineering

With twice as many people leaving the sector as joining, the Campaign to Promote Engineering has set its sights on creating a new generation of enthusiastic young engineers, campaign manager Graham Nicholls tells Helen Knight

The skills gap is the focus of widespread debate, to the extent that the government is now considering measures such as relaxing immigration laws to increase the supply of trained professionals. But in the longer term, the Campaign to Promote Engineering is attempting to address the issue of how to encourage more schoolchildren into engineering careers.

The organisation holds events at companies such as Jaguar and BAE Systems, giving children the chance to experience life within the profession.

Graham Nicholls, an incorporated engineer and external verifier for the Engineering and Marine Training Authority, was this month appointed campaign manager of the CPE for the next two years.

Our major focus is getting people into careers in engineering. With people leaving the profession outnumbering those joining by two to one, within a very short period of time we are not going to have engineers in the UK at all – they are all going to be brought in from outside the UK.

Therefore we need to fill the places on science, engineering and technology courses, and to promote our own manufacturing processes.

The CPE is a charity, 70% of the funding comes from industry, and the rest from institutions and organisations. One of our main sponsors is the Department of Trade and Industry.

My new role is, effectively, to be the face of the campaign, to go around, to meet, greet, anddiscuss with people what the campaign is about, and how we can collaborate and cooperate to promote engineering.

The major problem that we have had in the past is that the secondments have been for six months or a year, so we haven’t had much continuity.

I have already been working with the organisation for 20 months as a project manager with a number of responsibilities, including organising our stands at the Tomorrow’s World Live event.

I am also on the senate of the Engineering Council, and with my industrial experience I have both insight into the system and a lot of contacts, so hopefully my two years will be very positive.

Have you set any targets you aim to achieve? If I get one person to change their mind and join engineering I’ve succeeded. If I do the same with a thousand, I’ve been even moresuccessful.

But it’s difficult to know whether somebody has really changed their mind and said, yes that’s what I want to do, or really changed their perception of what engineering is about.

We are sending out questionnaires. We’ve started a project in shopping centres, with an event in the centre of the arcade, and a number of trade stands related to science, engineering and technology around it. As people leave someone at the door will ask them three simple questions.We will then measure their responses, as well as those from the people at our open days.