Engineering is everywhere. From the shoes you’re wearing (assuming you’re wearing shoes), to the screen you’re looking at right now. Whether or not you realise it, everything we materialistically possess and consume is a product of engineering processes, through the turning, moving, crunching, grinding, pressing and sewing that are required to turn basic raw materials into something we all can use and benefit from. It’s not something that we as a society particularly think about because the vast majority of the general public don’t work in the great machine known as the engineering sector.
“There aren’t enough engineers to replace those heading towards retirement. It’s simple maths really – if more come out than go in, the jar of engineering skills shall soon by empty.”
And, like any machine, it needs to be maintained. Not just through continuous streams of new business and technology – no, it needs something more fundamental than that. What really makes the cogs of this giant turn is the hardworking people pushing them. Human beings going about their day jobs; working in one of the very many disciplines which fall under the canopy of engineering.Whether civil, structural, electrical, electronic, mechanical, medical, geotechnical and the countless others which don’t fall so easily off the top of my head, each and every one of these engineering divisions is experiencing an unprecidented downturn in youth uptake. Engineering Recruitment Specialist Randstad forecast that by the 2050 the UK alone will have a 36,800 shortfall in the number of qualified engineers, and 66,800 shortfall in the number of construction workers.
To put it bluntly: there aren’t enough engineers to replace those heading towards retirement. It’s simple maths really – if more come out than go in, the jar of engineering skills shall soon be empty. This is by no means an overnight problem. The average engineering degree to Bachelor’s level is just short of three years, and that’s not including the amount of time it takes to truly gain the skill, knowledge and experience that is required to turn a ‘green graduate’ into a seasoned engineer (I myself am still on this road!) The key to reversing this rather drab forecast lies in playing the long-term game: there is no quick fix. This long game must start at school.
The truth is that, to those who do not hail from an engineering background, engineering must look like a rather dry subject. The very foundations of engineering are carved from mathematics – a subject synonymous with headaches, sleepy classrooms and the red ‘correction’ pen loosely scribbled all over the page.
Maybe a part of the problem is the cultural belief that creativity is born from the arts; that to be creative and different one must first learn to paint, sing, dance or enter a televised talent competition. The alternatives to STEM subjects seem so promising that it must be difficult to really see the potential in engineering – to really see that engineering is diverse, exciting and creative; to see that it challenges you, forces you to find the answers to difficult questions and makes you want to be better today than you were yesterday.
Without engineers, our world would be devoid of television, rock music, electricity, clean water, refrigerated foods and just about anything else you can think of (I only picked out the bits I really like). Each and every one of these has been created by the engineers of the past; unless we encourage young people to seriously consider a STEM future, the next generation of Thomas Edisons and Leo Fenders may well never discover their true calling.