Semta's Chief Executive Ann Watson shares her views on the latest news, policy, issues and events of interest to the engineering and advanced manufacturing sector. 


Thursday, 17 May 2018 00:00

To change teachers' hearts and minds about engineering, we have to show it to them

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There’s no substitute for experience, as the old maxim goes. To fully understand any profession, it’s important to see it up close for yourself – and that’s even more true for engineering. However, we know that despite determined marketing efforts, and despite changing the way we talk about our sector, old stereotypes still exist.

Making a success of the latest and perhaps greatest of these campaigns to change the way engineering is viewed by society, the government-supported Year of Engineering, is critical if we are going to have a hope of beating the engineering skills shortage. The core aim of the campaign is to facilitate one million engagements between young people and engineering employers in 2018. To do this, we need teachers and tutors to be on board.

The reality for many educators is that they have gone through university, through training and then straight into teaching while being denied the opportunity to gain a wider industry understanding. Technological change means that it’s imperative to keep up links with industry to refresh knowledge, too.  So it’s understandable, while being disappointing, that 22% of respondents to the 2017 Industry Apprentice Council report said they had received ‘good’ or ‘very good’ careers advice in school or college. There are great professional advisers out there, and there are many schools and colleges which have effective programmes in place – but too many, for budgetary reasons, have been unable to provide the independent and thorough advice young people need.

However, the evidence given to a committee of MPs last week shows that where teachers and employers link up effectively, it is beneficial to everyone involved. One participant involved in a pioneering project to introduce apprenticeships to young people in Hull told the MPs “[the teachers] could see the links and [they] have really enjoyed it”, and that “if you only have the route that you ever did, how do you know?”

Education-engineering engagement is also crucial if we’re going to dispel some of the stereotypes about who can be an engineer while we dispel the myths about what engineering is. Research has found that almost a third of male teachers think STEM careers are more for boys than girls. Little wonder, given this, that there’s such a dramatic drop-off in the number of girls who go on to study Physics at A-Level (about one in five Physics A-Level students is female) and the numbers who go on to take up engineering apprenticeship places (8% of engineering apprenticeship starts are female). Meanwhile, the same research found that 29% of female teachers are “not at all confident” in their understanding of STEM careers, almost twice the percentage of their male colleagues. Giving those teachers (and their colleagues) a chance to go and see a modern engineering facility is the very best thing we can do to change their minds.

Changing minds is what the Year of Engineering is all about, after all. The government is trying to fix the situation through new policies which will ensure that all young people have at least one engagement with an employer each year, some of which will have to be STEM-related. But we don’t yet know which sectors will be included within that definition of STEM. A widely-drawn definition, combined with the teacher disinformation described above, could lead to young people seeing different employers depending on their gender – entrenching the gender gap in engineering.

At Semta, we’re doing our bit by relaunching the STEM Exchange platform. It’s free, quick and easy to use for STEM employers and teachers. In just a few minutes, employers can register things like site visits and learning resources, and teachers can register their interest at the click of a mouse. It’s live right now and there are lots of employers offering opportunities which they would love local teachers to take up. So why not share the link with the teachers you know? We can all do our bit to help to bridge the divide between engineering and education, and make the Year of Engineering a success.

Click here to access the STEM Exchange.

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