The UK's transition to a low-carbon economy could be stalled by a skills gap after a National Grid report revealed the brightest school leavers were not being attracted to an engineering career.
The study highlights engineering as “an invisible industry” that doesn’t appeal to young people, and warns a future skills shortage will have a damaging impact on emissions targets.
The 'Engineering Our Future' report found the industry is undervalued and undermined by outdated stereotypes.
It was commissioned to look at attitudes towards engineering among young people, parents and teachers. More than 1,300 individual interviews with young people aged 14-19, and additional in-depth focus groups were conducted across the UK.
According to the report authors, the study revealed disturbingly low levels of awareness and interest, and a picture of confusion about the role of engineering, with the majority of young people and parents regarding it as dirty and menial work.
Highlights of the findings include:
• Confusion about the role of engineers, with six out of 10 young people not able to name a recent engineering achievement
• Young people, parents and teachers have “blue collar” images of men in overalls who fix things
• Teachers and parents think engineering is a career for those who are “less academic”
• Prejudice and stereotypes stem from this basic preconception
• Girls are 10 times less likely to say they would pursue a career in engineering
• Low levels of appreciation for engineers’ contribution to society, compared to other professions such as doctors, teachers and the police force.
Steve Holliday, Chief Executive of National Grid, said: “This report makes extremely worrying reading. National Grid sits at the heart of the challenges of climate change, security of supply and affordability of energy in the UK.
“We need lots of very clever people who can make things happen and think outside the box to create a different world in the future.
“We know from our own workforce planning that nearly 1,000 new roles are needed by 2020. We need to inspire today’s youth and help them to see how exciting and interesting a career in engineering can be."
With the UK on the cusp of an energy revolution, it is essential that the industry has a pipeline of talent coming through in the long term to help support the transition to a low-carbon economy, to meet Government targets of 80 percent emissions reduction by 2050 and 15 percent renewable energy sources by 2020.
Lord Browne of Madingley, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: "The Academy’s mission is to move engineering closer to the centre of society. Engineering skills are increasingly vital to modern life as they underpin our access to energy, water, food and healthcare.
“Engineering will also be crucial in solving the growing problems of energy sustainability and climate change. This report highlights the importance of attracting more people to the profession at a time when engineering creativity is most needed to meet the grand challenges facing society."
In light of the report findings, National Grid has reviewed its education and skills programme.
Among the solutions which are outlined in the report are:
• School Power – a new scheme whereby National Grid volunteers will go into primary schools with a programme of activities to stimulate interest in how energy, forces and materials work. The programme will also be available for teachers and others to use online
• Work experience - together with the Royal Academy of Engineering, National Grid is developing a blue print for what meaningful work experience should look like, as well as developing a mentoring and coaching programme aimed at teachers and careers advisors
• New pilot programme in North-West England to help disadvantaged young people.
National Grid Chief Executive Steve Holliday added: “We are investing in a long-term strategy to raise the aspiration levels of young people, their parents and teachers and encourage a career in engineering.
“The energy industry is changing and it’s vital we have the right people to deliver the new technologies required for the future. But to do this, we must inspire and engage tomorrow’s engineers today."
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