Encouraging a love for engineering

Published:  20 June, 2019

Skills creation and nurturing has always been the Achilles heal of British engineering – we have an abundance of talent but we fail to proactively encourage, keep and nurture the skills we need as an engineering nation.

We have also not been particularly great at encouraging women into engineering either, and this needs to profoundly change quickly.

Professor Karen Holford, deputy Vice Chancellor at Cardiff University and voted one of The Women’s Engineering Society’s (WES) most influential female engineers in 2016, explained recently that “the stumbling blocks are there from a very young age, such as girls not being given toy trains and cars to play with. It may sound like a small thing, but unconscious stereotyping is still holding girls back, without them even realising it.”

Professor Holford is also correct in saying that schools must ensure that teachers have the critical skills to teach the subjects needed for a career in engineering, but also as she highlights, companies need to do more to promote flexible working for both men and women. She explains: “This way we can ensure that the burden of childcare is equally shared so that women aren’t out of the workplace for long periods. If we can solve these problems, I believe we’ll see a big increase in women choosing engineering careers and, even better, staying in them.”

Despite the continuing skill problems and gender gap, I’m nevertheless quietly optimistic that there are signs that influential voices are starting to breakthrough and make the case for the realisation of sustainable engineering skills and to decrease the significant gender gap that still exists in this country.

Last month for example I saw the launch of new engineering institutions for children at the House of Lords. A fifteen-year mission to bring engineering into primary classrooms has taken its most ambitious step yet as Primary Engineer officially launched The Institution of Primary Engineers and The Institution of Secondary Engineers.

I personally am extremely excited about this launch and at the prospect that both Institutions may offer many future generations of children, and maybe even my own daughter, the opportunity to develop a love for engineering. They have been built for the digital age and are set to change the way skills are taught and nurtured in schools for both boys and girls. Having spoken Dr Susan Scurlock, MBE, founder of Primary Engineer and creator of the two Institutions I am absolutely convinced that they will help provide the foundation to challenge the widening engineering skills and gender-gap and improve school pupils’ career pathways and employability through close collaboration with pupils, educators, industry, the STEM community, and parents.

The two Institutions have been designed to help pupils and teachers structure skills, both personal and those closely related to engineering, and the wider STEM curriculum continuously throughout a pupil’s educational journey. Delivered via an online portal they allow teachers to create, access and evaluate projects while keeping track of the skills their school delivers.

Young people will be at the heart of the next generation of engineering talent, and this is a much needed service and opportunity for them, irrespective of gender. As a nation we need to build on these new institutions and use it as the foundation of a much wider concerted effort to encourage engineering skills.

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