Changing the face of engineering’s image problem

Pictured: Professor Salah Al-Majeed
Salah UoG Engineering 2019

Recruiting qualified and capable engineering professionals is at the heart of Gloucestershire’s ability to grow its economy, but first the profession has to overcome its image problem, says Professor Salah Al-Majeed, head of engineering at The University of Gloucestershire

Engineering is about more than simply finding mechanical or structural solutions, and it is clear that Gloucestershire’s employers need graduates who are capable of dealing with a host of challenges and innovative approaches.

These same individuals should also appreciate that engineering is a rewarding career. University graduates with an engineering degree on average earn 20% more than other graduates and can expect to earn even more during their career than those graduating in many other subjects.

Engineers have every reason to look forward to a positive future. This is, after all, a career that is growing in recognition and continually becoming more important to society. Engineering and technology greatly influence the way we live, work and interact with each other. However, many often fail to recognise this until something goes wrong.

Engineers play a crucial role as innovators. They design, build and improve technology and are central to national productivity, economic growth and modern living standards. Engineers are the people who turn scientific knowledge into practical application, social benefit and economic value.

For higher education providers there is a responsibility to ensure that student expectations and graduate potential is maximised. Employers understandably expect new recruits to demonstrate unique and practical skills which will add value to their business.

This is why an effective systems approach is needed to provide wider knowledge to learners who are dealing with innovative engineering challenges, alongside more practical hands-on work that distinguishes between being a specialised or a general engineer.

To help achieve this University of Gloucestershire students learn through a framework approach which combines the best common practices in engineering and encourages a full exchange of ideas with students learning in other disciplines.

This process mirrors how real businesses work and underlines the importance of recruiting professionals who can communicate effectively with colleagues, interpret standards, work with varied data sets, and understand the unique demands of research and product design.

However, all of this potential can only come to fruition if engineering’s reputation is transformed. Many young people assume engineering is limited to hard, manual labour. Broadening and correcting this image, as well as inspiring more women to pursue STEM subjects and careers, helps bridge existing skills gaps in science and technology and better presents what engineering is, and how it can play a positive role in young people’s lives.

Engineers today are more likely to find themselves working in areas such as industrial systems engineering or the Internet of Things. Their expertise is often employed in thinking about the future. Technology is naturally fast-paced and product need to develop and be shaped to match the skills, knowledge and behaviour of customers.

The Royal Academy of Engineering estimates that the UK needs to find more than one million new engineers by 2020 to meet industrial demand, while Engineering UK states that there is currently a shortfall of 69,000 engineers and technicians entering engineering or STEM-related subjects. This is a both a challenge and an immense opportunity.

The UK is one of the world’s best countries to become an engineer. The automotive and aerospace engineering sector is booming and average starting salaries are higher than the UK national average, with general engineers earning from £27,157 versus an average starting salary for other UK graduates of around £18,000-22,000.

To effectively prepare University of Gloucestershire students, all of our Engineering Technology courses and programmes have been designed to incorporate a strong industrial pathway, reflecting the needs of the evolving industry. Some of the firms involved in supporting this include BAE systems, Airbus, BT, GE Aviation and Raytheon.

These companies offer placements for our students and also help co-design our curriculum, ensuring that degrees are up-to-date and produce career-ready graduates. Programmes are also designed to meet the requirements for professional bodies, including the Chartered or Incorporated Engineer level of the Engineering Council UK through the Institute of Engineering and Technology and iMechE.

The vision is to provide high quality engineering education, research, outreach and engagement that enable students to achieve their career goals, boost the productivity of employers we work with, and promote a strong and sustainable engineering future for the region.

Engineering can be complex, but it stands to reason that everyone benefits if industry and educators can work together to catch the attention of a wide range of young people, not just those who are already deemed to be technical, but new entrants to the sector who are fascinated by the benefits that technology can offer.