How do we Inspire and the Next Generation of Engineers?
Working with schools, youth groups and providing support opportunities for young people to learn about engineering has become increasingly important within the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) community. Whilst the engineering sector significantly contributes to the UK’s economy, there appears to be a long-standing shortage in engineering skills and insights, with a continuing decline in engineering graduates.
Recent research has highlighted that a limited knowledge of engineering has become a likely factor in young people neglecting to choose the profession as a career path. According to Engineering UK’s 2020 report on Educational Pathways into Engineering, there is a widespread lack of awareness about the discipline, with 47% of students between the ages of 11-19 stating that they knew little or almost nothing about what engineers do.
In an attempt to enlighten youths to the exciting opportunities within engineering and encourage them to enter the world of STEM, many engineering organisations across the UK, such as the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), have implemented volunteer programmes to raise awareness of the scientific field and help change the perceptions surrounding STEM careers. One way in which the programme does this is by inviting professionals across the engineering industry to become an Education Ambassador and volunteer their time to directly engage with students and share their experience.
NanoSUN’s Principal EC&I Engineer, Joe Hacker, has been a member of the IET for over 10 years and has recently taken up a voluntary role as Education Ambassador. Having previously been involved in various positions promoting STEM with young people, particularly at Bristol University where he ran a robotics competition for sixth formers, Joe now looks to dedicate his expertise and experience to connecting young people to the engineering industry and motivating them into choosing it as a career path.
‘The attitude of the IET towards inspiring the next generation of engineers is really positive and they host some great events for aspiring youths to get involved in’ says Joe, ‘I think most people find it fun to share something they are passionate about and I am the same with engineering. It is especially rewarding to be able to encourage and develop the next generation of engineers who will be solving problems in the future that just don't exist now.’
As part of the new role, Joe will support local schools and youth clubs on behalf of IET Education, where he will promote and communicate the many aspects and values of engineering occupations through a range of activities from career talks and science fairs, to taking part in partnership collaborations and prestigious events like IET’s First Lego League.
Just last month, Joe attended a virtual EEP Robotics Challenge (North West) where he delivered a brief presentation on his role as principal EC&I Engineer at NanoSUN and highlighted why engineering is an interesting vocation.
‘The EEP Robotics Challenge event went really well. It was great to talk about engineering and educate the contestants on the variety of specialties available within the field,’ Joe comments. ‘I’ve also just completed judging for the IET's First Lego League Challenge finals and it was refreshing to see the enthusiasm of the teams involved in these events given that it’s been a difficult year and a half.’
Passionate and enthusiastic about STEM from a young age, Joe pursued a career in engineering early on in his education. Achieving A-levels in Computing, Physics, Maths and Electronics, he went on to study a Master's Degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Bristol. Now a valuable member of NanoSUN’s engineering team and a key asset in developing its innovative Pioneer Hydrogen Refuelling Station, Joe is an avid supporter of diversity and inclusion within the workplace and understands the challenges faced within STEM education.
‘It’s been a well-known fact that we need to do more to encourage young people into engineering and one of the priority points that needs to be addressed is that there aren’t enough women, BAME and those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds taking up engineering as a career path.’
STEM Women reports that in 2019 the percentage of female graduates in core STEM subjects was 26%, with only 16% graduating in Engineering and Technology subjects, and whilst WISE states that an improved 24% of the STEM workforce consisted of women in 2020, it is apparent that further work and engagement needs to be carried out to widen the reach across young girls and minority ethnic backgrounds to increase diversity levels within the engineering sector.
‘It’s difficult because these barriers to engineering are built into society, particularly within the mindsets of certain groups who hold the opinion that “Only nerds do that” or “That’s a man’s job”,’ shares Joe. ‘It’s these negative notions that we need to overcome and one way in which I feel I can do my part to help achieve this, is to use my ambassador position to educate the UK’s youth on why diversity in engineering is important and work to remove these stereotypes.’
Another main concern for the STEM community, predominantly within engineering, is the lack of workplace skills and shortage of young people choosing to pursue engineering careers. The IET’s Skills and Demand in Industry Report 2019 highlights that 60% of engineering and technical employees struggled to recruit engineering staff with the relevant skills, emphasising difficulties within the recruitment industry due to insufficient education and low availability of engineering professionals.
It is across these barriers that the requirement for Education Ambassadors like Joe has become a positive attribute in creating awareness and enabling young people to understand what engineering is. The mission to inspire, inform and influence the subject of engineering across the UK is invaluable and will prove to be instrumental in facilitating the next generation of engineers and increasing the uptake of roles within STEM.
Joe says, ‘I think a lot of young people today don’t realise that there are many aspects of engineering. That it’s not just about fixing things but about using creativity and innovation to design, build and solve problems. The more we make people aware of this from a young age, the likely we’ll see more people become interested in engineering.’
Whilst engineering and technology companies like NanoSUN are actively promoting careers in STEM and supporting all its younger employees to gain chartership of their institutions, one of them being in engineering, the provision of direct interaction with engineering professionals like Joe will ultimately assist in gaining the attention of young people and generating awareness of the subject.
It is also vital that everyone works to change the perception that engineering is difficult and complex, and to educate our youth to understand that engineering presents them with the opportunity to contribute something new to the world!
For information on how to become an Education Ambassador please visit IET’s website here.