Ten years of EngineeringUK, with challenges still ahead

The Paul Jackson Column

As the tenth birthday of EngineeringUK approaches, chief executive Paul Jackson looks at the way the organisation has changed, and how it is still working to promote engineering as a career

It’s EngineeringUK’s anniversary this month. Around this time ten years ago the Engineering and Technology Board – now EngineeringUK – came into being, with a remit to promote engineers and engineering. Engineering is a profession with a glowing history. But it is our glowing future that EngineeringUK is passionate about; an exciting future that we can only realise by inspiring our next generation of engineers.

We have come a long way since 2002. We held a very grown-up do at the Science Museum to launch the Engineering and Technology Board. Any event we run now would be jam-packed with young people. The Engineering UK report will be published for the 15th time this December and has become a staple for the wider engineering community – government, business and industry, professional bodies and education alike. It helps us to understand the economic environment we’re working in and to identify challenges to the industry, and it informs the way we collaborate to combat them.

The Engineers and Engineering Brand Monitor is five years old, giving us an understanding of how engineers and engineering are viewed by the public and the pathways to influence their perceptions.  The British public has come a long way in terms of its understanding and perception of engineers and engineering. The findings of our 2012 Brand Monitor provide the engineering community with a clear call to action for how to promote engineering careers effectively. 

The Big Bang has grown to be the country’s largest youth event

Our programmes, The Big Bang Fair and Tomorrow’s Engineers are doing what they were created to do: inspire our future engineers. It was great that these programmes were commended by Rt. Hon. Vince Cable MP in his speech at the Confederation of British Industry conference on 19 November.

Looking at our programmes, it’s difficult to believe that our first Big Bang Fair took place in 2009 attracting 6,500 visitors. In 2012, 56,000 people attended the Fair, making it the largest youth event of any kind in the UK. The 2013 event at ExCeL London in March looks set to break all previous records. Not bad for a science and engineering careers fair.

Hearteningly, evidence shows that the collaborative efforts of the engineering community are making a positive impact. In 2011 the Brand Monitor found that 11 per cent of all 12 – 16 year-olds believe engineering to be a desirable career. 45 per cent of secondary school students who have taken part in the Tomorrow’s Engineers programme and 54 per cent of 12 – 16 year-olds who have attended The Big Bang Fair think engineering is a desirable career, by comparison.

“The UK needs 2.7 million additional workers over the next ten years

There is certainly no room for complacency, however. There are plenty of challenges ahead for us yet. Although science, technology, engineering and maths – STEM subjects – are ‘desirable’, they are more desirable to those 17+, which is too late for making those all-important GCSE and A Level choices.

There is much still to do. Engineering UK 2013 gives a positive impression of the sector’s capabilities. Arguably the most arresting figure to come out of the report is the size of the skills demand, however. The UK needs 2.7 million additional workers over the next ten years. The message is clear: if we are to seize the opportunities afforded to us by burgeoning new technologies and low carbon targets, we must inform, inspire, attract and retain new talent.

The learner is central to everything we do at EngineeringUK, and ensuring young people understand more about engineering careers is at the core of all of our programmes. As a community – business, government, education, professional bodies and  the wider STEM community – it’s down to us to work together to promote engineering careers, and ensure that young people receive the high quality Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance they need and deserve to make informed decisions about their futures.

Paul Jackson is chief executive of EngineeringUK