What Is Engineering?

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How can we promote a career in engineering to students?

You’d be forgiven for thinking engineering is a well-known and popular career path. The startling reality is that whilst engineering offers creative and varied job opportunities, there is a lack of young people taking it up as a career, and more alarmingly, just 12% of people who work in engineering are women and only 8% come from black and ethnic minority groups.

When I ask the question of my class “What do you want to be when you grow up?” why do I hardly ever hear children saying they want to be an engineer when it is such a rewarding and well-paid job?

The issue many of us face is that engineering can be an abstract concept to explain. How many of us can honestly say that we know exactly what engineering entails? To me, it’s one of the few careers that seems a little ambiguous when I talk about it. And I’m not alone. In 2017:

  • 7% of primary school teachers and 59% of secondary school teachers said they feel confident in giving advice about careers in engineering
  • 7% of primary school teachers and 46% of secondary school teachers have a good understanding of what engineers do (Year of Engineering, Department for Transport).

Why do we struggle?

If we as teachers have a lack of understanding of what engineering is, how can we sell it to our students when discussing career choices? It’s important that educators have a clear view on what to tell the children in order to find the best career for them and the foundation needs to be built on understanding.

Engineering is also one of those careers where our students will picture a certain type of person – most often, a man. This can mean children are limiting themselves because they think engineering is not for them. This really shouldn’t be a bar to what is a great career opportunity regardless of gender – or ethnicity.

Also, despite engineering being all around us, it might not seem as obvious as, for example, being a police officer or working in the fire service, therefore it might be more challenging to offer direct experiences of engineering to inspire the next generation of engineers.

What can we do?

It’s time we made engineering an explicit career choice for our children, but how? As teachers, I believe that we often struggle with a starting point for introducing new ideas. With engineering, there may just be a starting point already there for us.

The Year of Engineering

The Year of Engineering is a campaign where the Government has joined forces with over 1000 engineering partners to showcase the variety and creativity of engineering to inspire the next generation. It has also developed a simple animation to provide educators with an introduction to engineering.

The animation outlines what engineering is in a clear and precise way, giving teachers an understanding that can easily be passed on to students. Where teachers may fall short is comprehending what it is about engineering that can be accessible for all. The animation is filled with snapshots of the different sectors, people and the positive impacts that the field of engineering offers society.

The video goes on to explain just why schools are so important to furthering the reach of engineering for the future. Engineering is an expanding sector. We will always need engineers, so when we are teaching the generations of the future, we need to ensure that we are covering all bases – this animation helps us to do just that.

This animation also shows the other tools available to support teachers in working to inspire their students into a career in engineering. The Year of Engineering is a fantastic campaign to support schools in promoting the education and engagement of a career in the sector, and there are plenty of resources and lesson plans to help, including ideas for activities children can do outside of school. There is also a link to the Stem Exchange tool that will help teachers access local engineers to invite them into school and explain what it’s like being an engineer in a real context.

Where can you find out more and get involved?

  • The Year of Engineering campaign has a brilliant website which is easy to navigate and comprehend.
  • The website includes free STEM resourceslesson plans and CPD resources that are easy to understand and won’t take a lot of time to integrate into the classroom.
  • The Connect and Cultivate tools on the website provide ideas for how you can bring engineering to life in the classroom. The ideas are great and range from encouraging the use of STEM work experience for teachers to bring in positive role models from the sector to talk about their careers.
  • This support is easily and freely available, meaning we have the tools at our finger tips to show students what a career in engineering can involve from designing sportswear to improving the lives of the people around us.

As someone who wasn’t entirely aware of what engineering entailed, I can honestly say that this is an initiative that we should be grabbing with both hands. The animation is a great starting point for giving teachers a better understanding of engineering and the confidence to engage our pupils in the careers and skills available. With the support and the engagement from the campaign, teachers can feel confident that they are inspiring the next generation of innovators, creators and problem solvers.

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Hollie Anderton

Hollie is currently a primary teacher in North Wales with a degree in Theatre. She trained in Bath Spa University to gain her PGCE and has an experimental classroom which she has developed from other practitioners. She is a firm advocate for anything collaborative and creative and has a huge interest in managing classroom behaviour.