Change needed in how engineering is promoted to teenagers

Posted on 17 Dec 2014 by Jonny Williamson

A paradigm shift is needed in the way we promote engineering in schools to reach out to different student groups, says a new paper by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The report, Five Tribes: Personalising Engineering Education, is calling on government, teachers, industry and science technology engineering and maths (STEM) organisations to take into account young people’s diverse values and attitudes to try and inspire them about engineering.

Noting that whatever we have been doing “isn’t working”, Peter Finegold, head of Education and Skills at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, commented: “The UK is struggling with a dramatic shortfall of engineers.

“In 2010 it was calculated that demand to maintain economic growth meant producing 190,000 engineering graduates and technicians every year till 2020. Last year we produced only 51,000, of our 87,000 target for graduates alone, and time is ticking by.

“Engineering is a hugely creative subject yet our education system too often segregates those it sees as potential engineers from those it deems artists. Yet it is clear that if we are to meet this shortfall, we need to think differently about who our audience is.

Change needed in how engineering is promoted to teenagers Web
Education too often segregates those it sees as potential engineers from those it deems artists.

The new report identifies five distinct groups of young people in the UK, aged 11–19, based on their values, interests and attitudes to STEM subjects:

Stem Devotees: enthusiasts who expressed very high levels of enjoyment of STEM subjects, especially mathematics. This group saw STEM-related careers as prestigious, clever and accessible to them.

Social Artists: young people who tended to enjoy STEM subjects less than other students and who were more likely to be positive about art, English language, drama and dance. Their connection with traditionally ‘creative’ subjects may on the surface make them less likely candidates for a future in STEM, but this group comprises many potential engineers if the engineering community were better able to promote its creative side.

Enthused Unfocussed: teenagers with wide-ranging interests, including an acknowledged enjoyment and interest in STEM subjects, but who lack confidence that a STEM career is for them.

Individualists: adolescents who have less interest in engineering as a career and who are more likely to study academic subjects linked to specific vocations, such as law, psychology and business. But as the most entrepreneurial tribe, they would benefit from greater exposure to the opportunities in engineering.

Less Engaged: pupils who broadly lack confidence in their own abilities and had the lowest affinity of any group with engineering.

Finegold concluded: “If we are serious about meeting the UK’s engineering skills shortage we can no longer rely on appealing just to the small proportion of people who are passionate about STEM subjects.

“Our research shows that young women for example, tend to have a greater affinity to engineering connected to design, medicine, sports and the environment and this should be reflected in the way STEM subjects are presented to them in school.”