Do we really need more engineers?


Last week, James Dyson wrote an article in The Guardian highlighting the UK’s shortfall of engineers and the impact this is having on his business. This article made some really important points, but also triggered a whole series of questions including:

  1. How many engineers is ‘enough’ for an economy?
  2. Do we know how many engineers we have now?
  3. What type of engineers do we need?
  4. Is the shortage of engineers just a UK issue?

James Dyson’s article also highlighted a particular issue that resonated with me: “[..] That’s why my foundation works with young people from primary school age to dispel the myths and help them discover what a career in engineering is like.

This seems to be one of the core underlying issues: If young children don’t have a sense of what engineers do, then trying to encourage them to consider engineering as a career and choose the right subjects to study is going to be really difficult. Great work is being done by a wide range of organisations to help improve understanding of what engineering is. There has also recently been increased presence in the media of engineering-related issues (for example, Mark Miodownik’s TV series on ‘Everyday Miracles’).  But there is still a lot more to do. The pictures shown at the top of this post I think are symbolic of the problem. They were drawn by 9-10 year olds at a Cambridgeshire primary school in response to the request to ‘draw a picture of an engineer doing engineering work’.  I got 40+ excellent pictures of almost exclusively men, repairing and maintaining cars, trains, and boilers. Hardly any of the pictures showed anything to do with constructing, developing, or innovating. This points to the narrow view that these children had of what engineering is about (as discussed in this video).  And if that is the basis on which we are developing of workforce of the future, that would seem to be quite a major concern for the UK.

The next few posts on this blog will be exploring the four questions posed above. If you have views on these or related issues, please add your comments below.


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