Work-ready and inclusive approach to education is key to engineering

work-readyA contemporary and inclusive approach to engineering education will give its graduates much needed ‘work-ready’ skills, says Professor Beverley Gibbs, Chief Academic Officer of NMITE (New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering)

NMITE has been created to respond to the recognised and predicted shortage of engineering graduates, and to respond to industry feedback that graduates have become very discipline-focussed but not work-ready to add value immediately. My role as Chief Academic Officer focusses on ensuring that NMITE’s model of learning-by-doing is reflected in our educational approach as well as our future learning spaces.

NMITE’s Disruptive Approach

Traditionally, engineering education has relied heavily on lectures followed by examinations. This type of educational model has been regarded as fair and objective, and is certainly scaleable, but reports from employers consistently tell us that graduates lack work-ready skills.  We are starting to see a few institutions around the world turning towards less conventional ways of doing things, for example in problem-based learning and “Learning Without Lectures” approaches. NMITE aims to build on these traditions. Rather than conventional lectures and timetabling, our disruptive pedagogical design supports our future learners in a programme structure that combines hands-on work with theory, process and professional skills development to solve real engineering challenges, in teams, for real industrial and community partners.

New NMiTE university inaugurated in Hereford

Career Framework for engineering: A teaching benchmark

We believe that this approach of learning-by-doing will equip our prospective learners with the skills employers are now demanding, and contribute to a bright future for engineering on a global scale. NMITE students will have built up a portfolio of work, and mastered the confidence to share achievements, passions and strengths during their studies which means they will be ready to work, know what to expect and be in a good position to take the opportunities presented to them upon graduation.

Our aim is for NMITE to have a contemporary and inclusive approach to engineering education. This includes appealing to women, but actually reaches beyond that. By being more inclusive in our entry criteria, we aim to have a vibrant learning environment that draws on different ways of thinking, different life experiences and differing values. Instead of lecturing disembodied knowledge, we aim to contextualise this in challenges that will create value for the local region and global needs. As well as talking about important issues such as efficiency and speed, learners will also consider sustainability, equality, security and quality of life. And finally, we will design learning to be social – working with one another, and getting very good at collaboration in the process.

The engineering industry will benefit from more female engineers

Engineers shape the world we live in. The infrastructure we use, the transport systems that move us around, the energy we consume, the hardware and software we use on a daily basis that keeps us connected, safe, healthy, creative and productive. If those systems, programmes and products are designed by an overly narrow subset of the population with a limited amount of time to understand users and anticipate knock-on effects, then inequality and risk can be introduced without us even knowing. I believe more diverse engineering teams counter this – not only in terms of gender, but in class, ethnicity, disability and so on. Different perspectives are powerful in a sector that is inherently creative and impactful. Plus, the more appealing we make engineering, the wider a pool of graduates there will be for industry to draw on.

My advice for women starting their careers in the industry would be that engineering encompasses an extremely broad range of career options and this is both empowering as well as bewildering. Do your homework about the kind of work you want to do and who you want to do it for. Find an employer whose values are aligned with yours and develop the capabilities they look for which will let you progress with them and have the impact you’re looking for.  Pay attention to your skills as well as knowledge, and always be ready to say what you can do (and what the business benefit of that is), as well as what you know. Be proactive and confident – when you see an opportunity, be ready to explain why you’re a good fit and what you can contribute and go and find out who you need to approach to put yourself forward.

Industry leaders have an important role to play

There’s plenty of research that tells us how important it is for young people to have role models – they have to be able to see somebody like themselves doing the work they aspire to. There is a role for all engineers here – challenge yourself to know at least one famous female engineer and be able to talk about her – there is a whole history of women’s engineering work that has become invisible. I have a soft spot for Hedy Lamarr, who as well as being an impossibly glamorous Hollywood actress also co-patented a method of frequency hopping for radio communications during WW2.

At the most fundamental level, one of the most important things senior female engineers can do is to be visible. Tell people what you do, join public conversations and – if it’s interesting to you – get involved in STEM outreach or think about guest lectures or mentoring at your local University or college.

Professor Beverley Gibbs, Chief Academic Officer of NMITE (New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering)