Have your say: How do we inspire the next generation of engineers?

What big conversations need to happen to help us inspire the next generation of engineers? Asks Dr Hilary Leevers, CEO of Engineering UK

We’ve launched a new campaign to encourage discussion about how to achieve the ambition of increasing the diversity and number of young people entering engineering.   Maybe you’ve seen it?

The Big Engineering Conversation has been taking place across social media and on our website and I’m delighted to see the engineering community responding, commenting and contributing their perspectives.

If you haven’t had a chance to get involved with the #BigEngConversation, then let me share some highlights. We kicked off with the question, ‘What have we learnt from delivering engagement activities in a pandemic?’.

First, one of my colleagues, Moira Shaftoe, our Business Partnership Manager for the North East, shared her thoughts about the creation of the Virtual Work Experience working group. This group of 12 EngineeringUK Corporate Members, was established to find innovative ways to ensure high quality work experience opportunities during the pandemic. Building on the key learning from that group, we have partnered with The Careers & Enterprise Company in the development of a step-by-step guide to support employers interested in providing a young person with an experience of their workplace. The site, Experiences of the workplace – A guide for employers, houses high-quality resources to take you through the entire process of planning, preparation and delivery. We know how much young people value work experience in STEM, and research from Wellcome found that about twice as many seek it than find it, so we need to offer much more. If you’re interested in doing so, I hope you find this guide useful.

We really need to work together to increase our collective impact, so young people understand the thousands of engineering roles available in the future

We also heard from Phillip McShane, Head of the Big Bang Programme, about the pivot to Big Bang Digital after the cancellation of the 2020 face-to-face Fair. The inaugural Digital event followed consultations with teachers and young people to understand how to make it most useful for them. The team produced a key learnings report in which they reflected on what went well and share some of the challenges and learnings. This year’s Big Bang Digital, a 3-day extravaganza due to be held on Wednesday 23 to Friday 25 June 2021, will give young people an opportunity to see how the STEM subjects they are studying right now can lead to a brighter and greener future. If you’re in any way connected to a school, then please do ask them to register.

Common to both testimonies was the collaboration required to pull off these feats. We really need to work together to increase our collective impact, so young people understand the thousands of engineering roles available in the future. From public transport, to tackling climate change and helping the UK achieve its Net Zero aspirations, to working alongside scientists and health care specialists to combat global pandemics, engineering and technology spans a range of exciting careers. According to our research, nearly 50% of 11 to 19 year-olds said they knew little or ‘almost nothing’ about what engineers do, so we need many organisations working effectively together to reach the scale of change needed.

We initiated the #BigEngConversation but we don’t want to talk to ourselves! We want your input, expertise and engagement. We started by focusing on how the pandemic has affected engagement activities, why diversity is such a key issue for engineering and how collaboration can help us in achieving some common goals. But we’re really keen to hear from you about what other big conversations need to happen to help us inspire the next generation of engineers. We’ve had some great suggested topics, from the training of teachers and careers advisors and understanding of different pathways into engineering, to how to engage neurodiverse young people.

The team have created a toolkit to help employers, individual engineers, Professional Engineering Institutions, delivery organisations and anyone else connected to the engineering sector to get involved. Over to you…