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Ask school kids what problems they want to solve

It seems that everyone agrees the UK doesn’t have enough engineers to meet industry’s current needs, let alone the needs for the coming years.
In case you haven’t been following the debate, EngineeringUK says manufacturing industry will need another 182,000 people per year with engineering skills in the next five years, but notes there is a current annual shortfall of 55,000 skilled workers. If these jobs were filled, it contends, the UK’s economy could benefit to the tune of £27billion per year.

The burning question is, of course, how to convince today’s school students that a career in engineering is not only attractive professionally, but also financially? It’s a problem which has yet to be solved satisfactorily and although recent statistics from UCAS – the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service – show the number of students accepted on all engineering courses has grown substantially over the last decade, we still don’t have enough students in the system.

I was at an academic seminar the other day, where the topic of tomorrow’s engineers came up. It wasn’t an extended discussion by any means, but one contribution stood out for me.

Carlos Lee, director general of the European Photonics Industry Consortium, suggested a different approach. “Don’t ask students what they want to study,” he said, “ask them what problems they want to solve.”

And that seems to make sense to me.

Graham Pitcher

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