Fill the skills gap with salaries that are fair for all

Jason Ford - News Editor, The EngineerJason Ford, news editor

Another year and another initiative aimed at raising the profile of engineering among the nation’s youth, accompanied, as these things tend to be, with an impressive list of companies and organisations lending their support.

This time it’s the Year of Engineering, which is looking to plug the shortfall of engineers with ‘a million inspiring experiences of engineering for young people, parents and teachers’.

Similar campaigns – such as See Inside Manufacturing – saw a single government department (in this case, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) work in partnership with manufacturers to ‘change young people’s perceptions and help them see behind the scenes’ of the UK’s manufacturing success’.

Year of Engineering has a broadly similar theme but is government led and will reach out to 7-16-year-olds and their parents to show ‘the immense creativity, opportunity and value of the profession’.

“By bringing them face to face with engineering role models and achievements we can send a clear message that engineering careers are a chance for all young people, regardless of gender, ethnicity or social background, to shape the future of this country and have a real impact on the lives of those around them,” said transport secretary Chris Grayling.

Approximately 1,000 partners are involved in delivering Year of Engineering and activities planned for the year include:

  • a Siemens See Women roadshow aimed at inspiring women, including more black, Asian and minority ethnic girls, into pursuing STEM careers
  • a brand new children’s book on engineering from Usborne
  • the Science Museum and London Transport Museum will be capturing children’s imaginations with interactive exhibitions
  • schools will get the chance to go behind the scenes at Airbus to meet engineers working on the Mars Rover
  • Thales in the UK will be inspiring inventors of the future with robot clubs in primary schools
  • Sir James Dyson, through the Dyson Institute, the James Dyson Foundation and the James Dyson Award, will continue to invest in inspiring young engineers by providing opportunities to apply engineering principles to projects that solve real world problems

Source: Year in Engineering

Graduate engineers often tell Student Engineer that they want to use their skills to ‘make a difference’, be it by developing low-carbon energy solutions or helping communities in developing countries.

In fact, there probably hasn’t been a better time for young people to take this curiosity forward in via a STEM career. Only this morning, Ford announced it will invest $11bn into hybrid and electric vehicles with 40 electrified models available by 2022. In the world of robotics, online supermarket Ocado is making strides with a cobot designed to assist with maintenance tasks, an advance that could help with making cobots a common sight in many places of work. Graphene promises numerous applications that were unheard or simply not practical a few years ago, and digitisation is bringing its own revolution that that will resonate in nearly every facet of our working and private lives. The list goes on and on.

If making a difference is your thing, then engineering is clearly raising the bar in making it happen. As Peter Finegold, head of education policy at IMechE said: “Engineering is simply how we use our intelligence and the materials at our disposal to make our lives better, safer, healthier and more enjoyable.”

Finegold added that unless students come from an engineering heritage background, they are unlikely to know about the career paths engineering has to offer, an anomaly Year in Engineering is seeking to redress.

In a statement, Year of Engineering highlighted ‘a lack of diversity in the engineering sector, with the workforce being 91 per cent male and 94 per cent white.

There may be one solution that could help level the playing field in terms of diversity, and that includes taking a look at salaries.

Last week, ECITB’s (Engineering Construction Industry Training Board) published ‘Engineering today: the supply and demand for engineers in the UK’.

It said it evidence points to BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) graduates receiving lower salaries on average, and have fewer employment opportunities. In their report, ECITB reference analysis from EngineeringUK that showed that in 2015, 71 per cent of white engineering graduates were in full-time work six months after graduation compared to 51 per cent BAME graduates.

For many years The Engineer has pondered the question of STEM uptake and related careers. We’re still no closer to offering a definitive solution and can only hope that the Year of Engineering exceeds its expectations. Right now, however, it would appear that one corner of the jigsaw could be completed with a rethink on employment and remuneration.