Engineering academics in the United Kingdom called for greater visibility of the subject in schools as a way of overcoming the shortage of labor and the need to find environmental solutions, following a survey by NMITE (New Model Institute for Technology & Engineering) and the Engineering Professors’ Council (CEP).
NMITE and EPC worked together to conduct research from the country’s engineering academics ahead of the EPC’s ‘Annual Engineering Academic Network Congress’, which NMITE is hosting in Hereford from 12th June. The three-day event will bring together engineering academics from universities across the UK to explore issues in education and engineering.
When asked what should be done to raise the status of engineering, nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents felt that engineering should be more visible in schools, with one comment: “help educate parents about the fantastic choice of career that a professional Engineer is.” This emphasizes the importance of raising awareness of engineering as a career choice, as many students who drop out of school are either unaware that it is an option, think they must have math or science qualifications to be considered, or believe it is a career path. only for certain types of people.
James Newby, CEO of NMITE, commented on the results: “It is clear that more needs to be done to help inform young people about engineering as an option, at the beginning of their learning journey. This is not a finger-pointing exercise aimed at schools. They have enough on their plates. It is important that the national curriculum reflects the diversity of careers available to STEM graduates. In September 2022, T-level courses in Engineering started, which is a promising sign that things are moving in the right direction.
“We are also seeing impressive industry initiatives trying to help with the education side, alongside institutions like ours going into schools and engaging directly with students. It’s about putting engineering on your radar and changing some of these perceptions that engineering is just for boys or those who excel in math, for example. Our new model of education is open to new and different types of thinkers and the old stereotypes do not apply.”
Johnny Rich, chief executive of the EPC, commented: “The UK has an engineering skills shortage that runs into the tens of thousands every year. Without filling that gap, we cannot hope to address the environmental, technological, economic and social challenges that we face and that many young people care about passionately. But you can’t be what you can’t see. We need to be clearer in schools about what engineering is – a creative discipline that applies science and design to real-world problems and that leads to fulfilling and rewarding careers for all types of students.”
Not far behind the need for greater visibility of engineering in schools, the EPC survey also revealed that 60% of respondents felt that making ‘engineer’ a restricted professional title in the UK, as in many other countries, could raise the status of a profession.
Demonstrating how important climate considerations are to the industry, 61% said they last changed their resumes to put a greater emphasis on sustainability, followed by 54% who did so to improve student satisfaction. That emphasis is certainly true for NMITE, with its Center for Advanced Wood Engineering, which aims to create a new workforce skilled in the use of sustainable building materials and techniques, to drive the development of a much more sustainable built environment.
In line with the theme of the next Annual Congress of the Engineering Academics Network, which is ‘New Models’, when asked what are the most promising new models for teaching engineering, more than half (54%) answered project-based learning, with 49% choosing problem-based learning. Either way, both show that hands-on, hands-on learning is the way forward, something NMITE embraces wholeheartedly. Newby comments: “We deliver our courses in studios, not classrooms, and in small teams – not large groups. Most importantly, the programs involve, at every stage, engaging with employer partners and working on real-life projects.”
The EPC and NMITE survey also included an open-ended question on the gender gap in the engineering workforce, which highlighted a strength of sentiment around the issue. While some spoke out against the issue and argued that women thrive, others felt that concerns about unconscious bias and the male-dominated industry were a barrier. Unpleasant workplace attitudes and culture, inflexible work standards, and lack of accommodation for family commitments still pose a problem for many women in engineering.
Fittingly, as part of the Engineering Academics Network’s Annual Congress program of events, world-renowned physicist Prof Dame Athene Donald DBE will deliver a keynote address on the 12thth June 7pm at Hereford Cathedral chaired by Karen Usher DL, Founder of NMITE. The talk, titled: ‘Innovation: New Ideas and New People’, will explore the gender disadvantages and biases women face and bust common myths that can deter women from science. She will make a compelling case for greater diversity in modern research to improve science and address the major challenges we face today.
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