15th October 2018

YoE: Back to School

In schools around the country, students looking ahead to selecting their GCSE’s are carefully considering which subjects will best suit their future career aspirations while others begin to look at A level offerings, scrutinising what university programmes will expect of them.

The decisions students make at these crossroads have a significant impact on what options are available to them at subsequent stages of education and, eventually, life. Too often, however, the exposure students have to different sectors and career paths is limited by inexperience, lack of role models and widely held misconceptions.

Who is ultimately responsible for ensuring young minds are given the guidance they need to make these decisions?

One of our directors, Nick Russell, recently shared his thoughts with City A.M. on the crucial role schools play in helping students understand the myriad options available to them and, particularly, in nurturing an interest in engineering from an early age.

Nick’s article, presented in summary below, offers an insightful lesson for teachers, schools and engineers alike on forward-thinking recruitment:

“The consistently noisy media rhetoric of a growing ‘skills gap’ suggests that across UK industry we are seeing an ever-increasing gulf developing between the requirements of businesses and the abilities (and ambitions) of entry-level candidates.

“Where does the blame for this lie? From personal experience, I have found that society, overall, does not fully understand the function and role of many economically important professions. Take my own sector, engineering. When speaking to children and parents alike, I’m dismayed to find they think we mend photocopiers and washing machines and that the built environment is solely constructed by builders! It’s an inaccurate viewpoint falsely presenting the profession as a blue-collar career prospect.

“Consequently, I find many parents steer their children away from engineering as they see the career path as one with a definitive dead end. If schools are not equipped with the knowledge or ability to communicate the many benefits of such a career, then it’s little surprise there’s no outlet to which parents will be able to listen to become more informed. We need to ensure a constant dialogue with our educators through all stages to foster a better understanding of our professions.

“This can be achieved in a number of relatively simple ways, for example engaging with local schools and establishing relationships with teachers and pupils. This will better equip the former to communicate the benefits of a chosen profession, and inspire the latter to consider your sector as a potential career path.

“At a higher-level there exists an overdependence on graduates with a narrow set of criteria, limiting the amount of employable candidates. Essentially you are creating highly defined round holes and not enough appropriately shaped pegs to fill them.

“My view is universities need to be braver in their approach, but it is up to UK businesses to offer these institutions more support and constructive feedback to ensure this. What skills do UK businesses need? It’s about getting your company to these institutions career fairs (and other similar events), into the subject departments and the wider student media, selling yourself direct to a non-traditional audience.

“Ultimately, UK B&I needs to shout louder in the education system as a whole or we risk a future skills deficit of insurmountable proportion. It takes dedication and discipline to cut through long-held misconceptions, and when you do, you will find a lively recruitment pool full of great employment potential.”

To read last month’s Year of Engineering article on the Structural Awards click here.