Career ops not photo ops

The Paul Jackson Column

The poor visibility of engineering in schools means that pupils are missing out on information about the sector, says the chief executive of Engineering UK. Careers advice must fill the gap.

I’ve hardly been in the office so far this year. My diary has been full of meetings, roundtables and events to speak up for engineering amongst reforms in education and careers guidance. Most recently I attended a workshop with the Government’s Science and Society Programme, exploring ways to encourage young people to study science and on 30 January I took part in a roundtable discussion with Skills Minister Matthew Hancock MP to discuss careers provision for young people and adults.

It’s clear that Government, business, charities and professional bodies are entering the New Year with commendable aims, both in improving young people’s interest in and understanding of engineering careers and in creating a quality careers service that will make a positive impact on people’s career choices.  It is vital, however, that these discussions not only take place now, but deliver real programmes of action and achieve real impact.

industrial cadets
The Prince of Wales launches the Industrial Cadets scheme

The Education Select Committee, at which I gave evidence on careers guidance in school in November, published its report in January. Its findings warn that schools are struggling to provide adequate advice, that the quality and quantity of guidance is deteriorating and that students are missing the opportunity to learn about the variety of choices available. For those of us following recent developments in careers provision this comes as no surprise, but it does ring alarm bells. Engineering is not immediately visible in schools, so it is crucial to the industry that young people have access to careers information that can help them to make the connection between their science and maths subjects and the engineering careers opportunities available to them.

There is an opportunity to work with Government to create a genuinely effective careers service that provides online information and resources, opportunities for both students and teachers to experience the engineering workplace and an independent and professional careers adviser in schools and colleges, enabling students to make informed choices from an early age. EngineeringUK is well-placed to share its experience and expertise, working collaboratively with partners through the Tomorrow’s Engineers schools engagement programme and The Big Bang.

It’s great to see Governmental departments supporting science and engineering. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has really got behind The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair, which brings together over 170 organisations to inspire young people about the opportunities available to them in science and engineering. However, wouldn’t Government support be even more effective if all departments took a more joined up approach to well-meaning initiatives?  The Department for Communities and Local Government’s ‘Industrial Cadets scheme’ is a recent case in point – good launch PR and a great  photo op with the Prince of Wales. However, no single initiative, no matter how good, will have the impact needed. Programmes on a far larger scale are required.

EngineeringUK makes sure initiatives aimed at young people get the biggest bang for their buck. As a community we must think about long-term careers ops in engineering for young people, not photo ops for short-term wins. And we must act now to get it right. My diary will continue to be full until we get this message to stick.

Paul Jackson is chief executive of Engineering UK