New report uncovers parents’ influence on young people on attitudes to engineering

Published:  27 April, 2022

Young people’s perceptions of engineering are strongly associated with their parents’ opinion of engineering, according to EngineeringUK’s latest Engineering Brand Monitor. For the first time, the Engineering Brand Monitor (EBM) has linked the responses from over 4,000 young people and their parents. It highlights:

• Young people whose parents said they know what engineers do were more than twice as likely to express an interest in an engineering career than those whose parents said they did not

• 78% of young people whose parents said they regularly do STEM activities with their child said they were interested in a career in engineering

• Nearly 9 in 10 young people whose parents said they were confident giving their child advice about careers in engineering said they were interested in a career in engineering.

It also suggests knowledge of what an engineer does and how you become an engineer as well as perceptions and interest in the profession, varies by not only by gender, but also socio-economic background, ethnicity and region. The report found:

• Only 48% of girls say they know what engineers do, compared to 61% of boys

• Young people from lower income families are less likely to be interested in engineering, with only 43% of young people from a lower income and level of education family reporting interest compared to 65% of young people from a higher income and level of education family.

• Where you live can influence your knowledge of engineering pathways. Teenagers in London are twice as likely to know what subjects or qualifications they need to become an engineer than young people in the West Midlands (60% compared to 30%)

The engineering sector currently draws its skills from a very narrow section of society: only 16.5% of the engineering workforce are women compared to 47.7% of the entire national workforce and 11.4% are from minority ethnic backgrounds compared to 13.4% of the overall workforce.

Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive of EngineeringUK, said: “As the world emerges from the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for engineering talent is intensifying. Ambitions to ‘level up’ the country and make the UK a science superpower and an innovation nation will be hugely dependent on our engineering and tech workforce, as will achieving net zero by 2050.

“Our research continues to highlight the need for more to be done to ensure engineering is, and is seen as, an inclusive career for all.

“Showing parents and young people first-hand the breadth of exciting engineering careers available will be paramount if we want to encourage more young people from all backgrounds to join the engineering workforce to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

The report findings show there is a strong association between engagement in STEM activities and an interest in a future career in engineering, but access to such activities varies between schools, with those with higher numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals less likely to run STEM activities. In particular, 1 in 5 young people had not taken part in any careers activities in the past 12 months.

Evidence shows that young people who know more about what engineers do are more likely to perceive the profession in a positive way and to consider a career in engineering. It also shows that STEM outreach and education activities are critical in this context. Students who had attended any (one or more) STEM careers activity were 3.5 times more likely to know about what people working in engineering did than those who hadn’t attended any. They were also 3.4 times more likely than those who hadn’t attended a STEM careers activity to consider a career in engineering.

Other factors highlighted in the EBM include:

• Just 56% of parents agreed they know about the different types of things engineers could do in their jobs

• More than half of young people say they know about the things engineers do, and that they are interested in pursuing a career in engineering - but only two-fifths know how to get into engineering

• More boys than girls see engineering as a good ‘fit’ for them, with the research finding that two-thirds of girls felt that girls face more barriers to getting ahead in engineering than boys

• Similarly, more barriers were perceived for those from ethnic minority backgrounds and socially disadvantaged groups than their counterparts

The Engineering Brand Monitor is an annual survey of the knowledge, perceptions and understanding of engineering of young people, their parents, and teachers. For the first time responses from parents and young people aged 7 to 19 were linked together and the association between them examined. The survey was completed by 4,317 child-parent pairs between April and May 2021.

A separate report on the responses of teachers can be found on the EngineeringUK website.

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