Looking for some inspiration

The Paul Jackson Column

Effective and timely careers advice is vital if the UK wants to secure a future pipeline of young talent for engineering

We can all remember the teacher(s) who inspired us or – in the case of my Latin teacher – failed to. Research tells us that students look to teachers for advice about their future careers and that teachers believe it is part of their role to deliver that advice, with the majority of them basing their advice on their own knowledge and experience. Yet the likelihood of many teachers having first-hand experience or knowledge of modern engineering is slim and, more worryingly, one in five science, design and technology and maths teachers we surveyed say they believe a career in engineering is undesirable for their students.

Without the Careers Education Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) that young people need, engineering is only likely to register on the radar of kids who have engineers in their family or a really well-informed teacher. Considering that the manufacturing sector alone would need to recruit three-quarters of all those celebrating their 18th birthday this year to meet its demand for new workers, I’m pretty sure that’s not going to cut it. The engineering sector must be accessible. We need to break down socio-economic, ethnic and gender barriers into the industry if we are to ensure the UK has the future talent pipeline of engineers needed to rebalance and reinvigorate the economy.

Waiting until the year in which pupils select their GCSE results is too late

Social mobility and the role of teachers was a hot,and very timely, topic at a recent public policy briefing I took part in with Graham Stuart MP, chair of the Education Select Committee. With the recent launch of the National Careers Service, it is clear that the engineering community can and must influence government plans for CEIAG provision. From September, schools have a legal duty to ensure their pupils in years 9-11 have access to independent careers guidance that meets their needs. As the extent of the careers provision likely to be available in schools is now beginning to emerge, I am sure that some schools will respond to their new duties very seriously and with renewed vigour. However, waiting until the year in which pupils select their GCSE options is too late and, without legislation for type and quality of provision, the worry is that all some pupils will be left with is access to a website – that is not enough.

The Department for Education is currently consulting on extending the duty to provide careers guidance down to year eight and up to young people aged 16-18 studying in schools, sixth-form colleges and further education. The Royal Academy of Engineering, via the E4E group, is coordinating a response from the engineering community. And I will be following up my meeting with Graham Stuart with a request for his committee to conduct an inquiry into the provision of careers education in schools.

We know that the demand for skilled engineers is strong; the sector will need 2.2 million employees over the next five to 10 years. We have to have the right careers information to ensure that young people really understand the potential of a career in engineering.

Paul Jackson is chief executive of EngineeringUK and Big Bang Education CIC