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19 October, 2019

It is often said that the key to solving the UK’s shortage of engineering skills lies in ensuring that schoolchildren know what engineering is and how it could be a rewarding career for them – both financially and in the impact they could make on the world.

So it rather depressing to see the results of a recent survey carried out by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE). Despite the sterling work carried out by organisations such as Primary Engineer, it seems that ignorance about engineering is still rife among our children – and their parents.

The survey – based on a sample of 2,516 7-19-year-olds, 1,023 educators and 1,810 members of the public – reveals that more than three-quarters (76%) of young people aged from 11–19 do not know much about what engineers do, and most (52%) “probably” or “definitely” do not want to become engineers. 

Their parents display a similar level of ignorance, with 72% admitting that they don’t know much about what engineers do. This is significant because almost two-thirds (63%) of 11-16-year-olds say they would consider going to their parents for careers advice.

The survey also reveals that 42% of 11-19-year-olds say that “having an impact” or “making a difference” would be important to them when choosing a career. With engineering certainly capable of having such an impact, it is sad that more than half of the children dismiss it as a career for them.

As the RAE’s chief executive, Hayaatun Sillem, points out: “Engineering and technology play an incredible role in shaping the world around us and in addressing some of society’s biggest challenges, from providing a sustainable supply of food, water and clean energy, to advancing healthcare, and keeping us safe and secure. We know that young people increasingly want to tackle these issues and make a difference in the world, but unfortunately the lack of understanding around engineering is stopping them from exploring careers that will enable them to do this.”

So, we’re back to the perennial question of what we can do to address the estimated shortfall of 59,000 new engineers that the UK needs every year, and the facts that only 12% of professional engineers are women and just 9% are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

As ever, there is no easy answer to that question. The RAE is hoping that it can help by declaring 6 November This is Engineering Day (, with aim of raising awareness of what engineers do and celebrating how they contribute to shaping our future. The day is part of Tomorrows Engineers week ( which gives engineers, employers, universities and schools the opportunity to showcase how engineers are on a mission to make the world a better place.

If these activities improve the statistics even slightly, they will be well worthwhile.


Tony Sacks, Editor


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