Engineering the future



The UK needs to recruit more bright, young engineers - but what do young people really think engineering involves? Tim Minshall decided to find out.

The only time many people see the word ‘engineering’ is when there are delayed trains and bus replacement services.
-Tim Minshall

What do engineers do? More precisely, what do schoolchildren think they do?

It’s an important question because the UK is in need of more engineers to reboot the economy and the UK’s manufacturing industry.

The UK Government’s new industrial policies rely on there being a healthy supply of engineers, something that is particularly true for the ‘high value’ manufacturing areas based on emerging technologies.  But is being an engineer something that many schoolchildren list when they are asked what they want to be when they grow up?

Tim Minshall, a senior lecturer in technology management in Cambridge’s Engineering Department, is passionate about his profession, but he says he was surprised when he went into a UK primary school and asked a group of 10 year olds to draw him some pictures of engineers. Most of the pictures depicted men fixing cars. Others showed men fixing trains. “The only time many people see the word ‘engineering’ is when there are delayed trains and bus replacement services,” he told an audience at the Hay Festival in early June.

Minshall says the shortage of engineers and children’s perceptions of the profession are linked. “The UK needs more engineers, but engineering is not a thing that young people aspire to be - and this stems from them not really knowing what engineers do. Their perceptions seem to be inaccurate and negative.”

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Image: Cambridge Station. Tim Minshall argues that often people only encounter the idea of engineering when there are works and delays.

Credit: Tim Minshall

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge

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