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Boost engineering visibility in school to tackle environmental challenges, say professors

Professional Engineering

'More needs to be done to help inform young people about engineering as an option' (Credit: Shutterstock)
'More needs to be done to help inform young people about engineering as an option' (Credit: Shutterstock)

Engineering should be made more visible in schools to tackle labour shortfalls and help find new solutions to environmental challenges, according to professors.

In a poll by NMITE (the New Model Institute for Technology & Engineering) in Hereford and the Engineering Professors’ Council (EPC), almost two thirds (63%) of engineering academics felt that the subject should be made more visible in schools to ‘elevate the status of engineering’.

Better visibility would “help to educate parents about what a fantastic career choice a professional engineer is”, said one respondent, from the EPC’s database of members from 85 higher education institutions.

“This emphasises the importance of raising awareness of engineering as a career choice, as many school leavers are either unaware it’s an option, think they must have maths or science qualifications to be considered, or hold the view that it’s a career path just for certain types of people,” an announcement said.

NMITE CEO James Newby said: “It’s clear that more needs to be done to help inform young people about engineering as an option, earlier in their learning journey.

“This is not a finger pointing exercise targeted at schools – they have enough on their plates. It’s important that the national curriculum reflects the diversity of careers available to school leavers within STEM. In September 2022, T-level courses started in engineering, which is a promising sign that things are moving in the right direction.”

Johnny Rich, chief executive of the EPC, said: “The UK has a skills shortage in engineering running into tens of thousands every year. Without plugging that gap, we cannot hope to address the environmental, technological, economic and social challenges we face, and that many young people care passionately about.

“But ‘you cannot be what you cannot see’. We need to be clearer in schools about what engineering is – a creative subject that applies science and design to real-world problems, and which leads to fulfilling and rewarding careers for all kinds of students.”

The research also revealed that 60% of respondents felt that making ‘engineer’ a restricted professional title in the UK, as it is in many other countries, could elevate the status of the profession. 

Demonstrating how important climate considerations are for the industry, 61% of academics said they had changed their curricula to place a greater emphasis on sustainability. 54% did so to improve student satisfaction.

The survey was carried out ahead of the EPC’s Engineering Academics Network Annual Congress, which NMITE is hosting in Hereford from 12 June. The three-day event will explore issues in education and engineering.   

In line with the theme for the event, which is 'New Models', over half (54%) of respondents selected project-based learning as one of the most promising new models for engineering education. Almost half (49%) selected problem-based learning.

Those approaches are already used at NMITE, which focuses on ‘learning by doing’. “We teach our courses in studios, not lecture theatres, and in small teams – not large groups. Most importantly, the programmes involve, at every stage, engagement with employer partners and work on real life projects,” said Newby.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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