Lord Kelvin was a hero in his day. As well as being widely known for determining the correct value of absolute zero and so inspiring the unit of measurement called the ‘kelvin’, he made his name and a considerable amount of money through various discoveries and inventions. He also became the first engineer to be elevated to the House of Lords.
Sadly, today, we don’t seem to have built on the great science and engineering traditions of yesteryear. Instead, we are facing an alarming scarcity of engineers in the UK, something that could have a significant impact on the UK economy in the future. Here are some facts produced by the fine folk at the National Graduate Apprenticeship Programme (I haven’t checked them…):
- 140 – total number of females nationally taking an A-Level in computer science in 2012
- 800,000 – number of professional level STEM workers needed before 2020
- 96,000 – number of graduate engineers due by 2020
- 1:2 – ratio of female engineering graduates who drop out of engineering straight away
- 1:3 – ratio of male engineering graduates who drop out of engineering straight away
- 7.2% – proportion of students getting work experience as part of their university course
- 8% – number of women engineering profressionals in terms of total membership
- £53,000 – predicted rate of debt for 2012 intake of students (compared to £2,122 in 1994)
- 12% – drop in numbers going to university in 2012
- £80,000 – cost of a traditional apprenticeship programme
- £200,000 – cost of a traditional graduate programme through to chartership
Okay, a little bit of factual overload; and some I’m not going to touch on right now. But, for me, there seems three key things:
Schools/Early years – are we engaging young people in maths and science subjects – and especially maths and physics – and talking about the importance of these skills?
Universities – is the experience engaging enough to convince people to stay in engineering after they qualify? Or is that the fault of employers?
Careers – if engineering is full of men, what are they doing to attract more women?
Now there are some big questions here – and not easily answered. But rather than just throw the problem over to educators and employers; here’s a novel idea. We all make a concerted effort to start to educate ourselves and educate others about science and engineering. Because change doesn’t just come from investment – and lots of us telling other people what they should or shouldn’t be doing. It’s time for us all to take a little responsibility. It’s time to make heroes of our scientists and engineers. To find the Kelvins, Faradays and Brunels of the future.