Recent statistics show a shortfall of 400,000 engineers in the UK with the Engineering UK 2017/18 report highlighting a gender imbalance of only nine percent of roles filled by women. This is despite over 80% of engineers being happy or extremely happy in their roles and students in this sector being second only to doctors in securing full-time well-paid employment.
In the near term, this has the potential to leave original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) without the crucial resources to bring their leading edge ideas to life. This is where electronic manufacturing services (EMS) partners can provide the necessary expertise and talent to fill that gap.
But this still leaves a long-term need to ensure our increasingly connected world is supported in order for it to keep evolving. Future technology will depend on the brightest minds being committed to solving the challenges of today and this is where the next generation of innovators can make an impact. If there is to be an influx of new talent, it is essential that companies are proactive in getting involved with educational institutions to share the exciting, dynamic journey that a career in engineering can provide.
How can this industry appeal to the future generation?
One way is to start getting the message across to students that their interests can translate into opportunities that will allow them to solve problems that mean something to them personally. If a child is interested in taking things apart and putting them back together again, or wants to know the inner workings of the devices they use, the potential to be an engineer is already there. All that may be needed is the right encouragement and the right exposure to pursue this career path.
This is where corporate organisations can, and should, become involved to provide awareness and support. A common way is for a company to start its own outreach programme. Under this approach, engineers visit schools to talk about their role and demonstrate the life-impacting technologies that students can play a part in creating. While social media and smartphones have become a normal way of life for the upcoming generation, many young adults may not be aware that they could be helping to develop the next models of these platforms in the future.
As an example of this style of programme, Plexus has a global focus on contributing to the future generation of engineering with a charitable foundation focused on building local education programmes. As part of this scheme engineers frequently volunteer their time and talents to mentor young professionals.
Another strong initiative for companies to get involved with is the FIRST Robotics programme. This global competition aims to inspire young people to build science, engineering and technology skills through exciting challenges. Partnering with local schools and universities to develop coursework projects, and contribute equipment where appropriate, is another way to aid students’ learning experience.
While the potential gap in engineering talent is impacted by young people’s interest in the field, there is also the added dimension that engineering was historically viewed as a ‘male dominated’ field. Many programmes have been created to introduce young women to the subject and encourage them to bring their talents to the industry.
One such summer programme provides young women with the opportunity to try out hands-on activities such as soldering, welding and other science and technology related activities. It is crucial that this demographic is exposed to these types of projects early in their schooling – preferably in the young teenage years. After that time, many have already narrowed down their career paths of preference.
All it may take is an initiative such as this to spark an interest in engineering as a career at a young age and inspire a student to consider it for a long term passion.
How does the industry benefit from these outreach programmes?
Today companies should be playing a vital role in supporting the next wave of engineering talent. This commitment will not only benefit the school age children, young teens and recently graduated professionals, but also the entire industry.
With access to new career opportunities that align with personal passions – and the financial support for activities that will help them to gain hands-on experience – the number of students pursuing complex and technical roles will increase.
This equates to more creative minds entering the aerospace and defence industry at a time where innovation is more important than ever. The advancement of Aerospace 4.0 and ever-increasing connectivity, efficiency and speed of products will need to be supported by engineers with the foresight of where technology can go and the intellect to know how to make it successful.
If the industry is to grow, there is a need to entice the professionals of tomorrow with the world of engineering open to them today.
About the author:
Rachel Matthews is Senior Director of Customer Management for Aerospace and Defence at Plexus – www.plexus.com