The engineering talent pipeline: what do university students want from an engineering degree?

Posted on 1 Jun 2022 by The Manufacturer

Universities are absolutely vital in stimulating the talent pipeline of future engineers, but what is it that school-leavers are looking for when choosing a course, and how can universities ensure that engineering is an attractive course option?

In recent years, the manufacturing sector, as with many others, has gone through seismic changes. The need to innovate, contribute to Net Zero, and meet increased demand has meant that the industry has really needed to step up.

As a result, employers are now looking for different things from upcoming talent. They want real-world problem solvers, equipped with the expertise to solve challenges in a timely way and work alongside other organisations.

Universities play an important role in this space. It is up to us to create courses which leave graduates ready for the world of work, having had practical experience in problem solving and collaborating.

But they also face a challenge. Competing institutions and a multitude of alternative routes into the working world, mean that universities must appeal not only to eventual employers, but also to school leavers.

Action shot of engineering students - shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Learning beyond lectures

The pandemic has shifted the wants and needs of school leavers. For many, the disruption to in person learning has created a desire for a more hands-on university experience, and this is particularly true of engineering courses.

At the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), we place a significant focus on ‘real world learning’, with work-related activity embedded into the curriculum at all stages. For our engineering courses, this includes offering plenty of opportunities for employers to take on students through our degree apprenticeship programmes.

Partnerships with companies like Royal Mail give our engineers invaluable hands-on experience. Recent students and apprentices have been challenged to ensure that postal activity in sorting offices across the nation are working efficiently, utilising technology such as drones, AI and robots. We hope to see these graduates to go on to become innovators in the world of engineering and manufacturing.

Drawing on regional strengths

Universities play an important part in local economies, often drawing on the strengths of their regions. With Lancashire known for its manufacturing prowess, it’s no surprise that UCLan has found its engineering courses to be really attractive.

In the region, there has been significant growth in aerospace engineering, intelligent machines and mechatronics, with Lancashire among the world’s top four centres for aerospace production. Home to world leaders like BAE Systems, the regional conditions are ideal for engineering education to continue thriving for years to come.

Our Engineering Innovation Centre brings together world-leading research, leading business minds and inspiring teaching to meet the demand for specialists in the region and beyond. The investment in this building has accelerated the interest in coming to study at UCLan.

By drawing on these regional strengths, training providers are spoilt for choice when it comes to recruiting local talent whilst maintaining global prominence.

Emerging sectors

In recent years, UCLan has noticed a growth in demand for engineering courses, with prospective students specialising in motorsport, mechanical engineering and aerospace in particular. We have also seen a significant growth in applications our cutting-edge RIBA-accredited Architecture programme which is geared up to provide students with a comprehensive grounding in sustainable building design and environments.

While it’s great to see students becoming increasingly specialised, we place a real emphasis on helping our students to work in a multi-disciplinary way. Universities need to equip graduates with the ability to understand other fields, and the ways in which macro issues impact the work of engineers.

Going global

Qualifications in engineering and manufacturing can be a passport for the world. The training provided at university level not only supports the regional economy but equips students with the skills to take them anywhere.

As education providers, we are responsible for getting students ready for a career at the forefront of future design and technologies. Current and future students will go on to provide solutions that we can’t even imagine, so it’s vital that they are given solid foundations to enable them to go forward and innovate.

About the author:

Ian Allison, Executive Dean for the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of Central LancashireProfessor Ian Allison is the Executive Dean for the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of Central Lancashire, providing academic and business strategic leadership for over 9,000 students.