Supply malaise continues

26 August 2020

It has been said that many of the jobs we will need in 20 years’ time have not yet been invented. But you can bet your bottom dollar that we will still need engineers in 20, 40, even 200 years’ time. In fact, increasingly complex technological societies – e.g. ones where the exploitation of underground space continues to expand – will probably need even more engineers than they do today.

Yet nationally and internationally, there is a persistent shortage of engineers in almost every branch of the subject. And not just engineers per se, but also associated personnel – such as the technicians who are so crucial to the successful realisation of a project.

The UK’s Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) estimates an annual shortfall of 59,000 new engineering graduates and technicians. August bodies such as The British Tunnelling Society (BTS), the Institution of Civil Engineers and The Royal Academy of Engineering have for several years tried to address this by targeting educational campaigns at schools and colleges, highlighting engineering as a career. Which is all well and good. But in addition to ‘getting em while they’re young’, you have also got to educate the parents, as BTS chair Kate Cooksey reminded this writer in June.

Parents need to be able to broaden their kids’ horizons and make them more inquisitive about the world around them. Giving them Meccano, Lego and science sets is probably more beneficial than smart phones and tablets. This sort of ‘background’ education should not just be left to the schools.

Another easy win in growing the engineering fraternity and making it more sustainable is to increase the number of female engineers. Women form around half of the global population but do not constitute half of the engineering professionals in any country, although some come closer to that figure than others: Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus enjoy a figure around the 30% mark. In the UK (where only 4% of engineering apprentices are women) the corresponding figure is 12% – one of the lowest in the EU – while in the US it is 14%.

We need more engineers. And to have a sustainable industry we need a fairer representation of women engineers in it. And one way of doing this is to promote the profession tirelessly. It is no coincidence that the record numbers of students applying to architecture courses is a direct result of the exposure the subject has had in the popular press and on TV over the past 30 years. We need to examine how the architects have achieved this (shameless self-promotion?) and do the same.