Are you playing your part to secure the future of the engineering profession?
Alison HortonView bio
I didn’t fall into structural engineering by accident, but it’s definitely not something that was advertised to me as a career when I was younger - it was an off the cuff suggestion made to me one day. To gain some experience, my dad (a software developer) emailed his colleagues to see if anyone knew an engineer that could give me some work experience, and I was fortunate enough that the email paid off!
I’m extremely passionate about what I do. Whilst at university I was given the opportunity to share my experiences with potential students on what studying and working as an engineer was like. This progressed to helping a colleague during my placement year with building paper bridges at primary schools. Here I am, nine years post graduate, still trying to encourage the next generation of school leavers to join the profession. I’ve done den building, site visits, assemblies, career speed dating, apprenticeship fairs and more, and all as a STEM Ambassador.
To provide some context: 5.5 million people work in engineering in the UK, accounting for 18% of all UK employment. In 2019 the Engineering UK report stated that between 2014 and 2024, 13 million openings will become available due to people leaving the profession. A further 1.8 million openings will be created due to job/market expansion. Annually, we are falling short, recruiting between 37,000 and 59,000 engineers!
When I returned to work as a graduate, I signed myself as an official STEM Ambassador, giving myself a title I am proud to use on a daily basis. I am registered with a DBS check and have relevant training and experience with working with students in schools to deliver and help partake in STEM activities. But what is STEM and how is this going to secure the future of engineering?
STEM simply stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, covering a wide array of areas and professions. By providing support to teachers to run STEM activities in schools, I am opening up a whole new world of career opportunities to young minds. I’m taking away the stigma associated with those that work in STEM and I’m not only educating students, but their teachers, parents and careers advisors too. The benefits to the industry seem clear- letting people know what we do as engineers and hopefully filling the skills shortage that is so apparent. This results in fresh young talent that care about the future and want to make a difference. So, what do I get out of this scenario I hear you ask?
1 – a sense of pride. Most engineers play a role in being at the forefront of everyday things that the general public just take for granted. They also like to talk about their work and the difference they make. As a STEM Ambassador you get to share your experiences and your involvement in people’s lives that they don’t even know about. You will be surprised how interested people are in learning about how their latest mobile phone came to be, how their car goes so fast or how the house they live in stands up.
2 – helping to provide diversity within a traditionally not very diverse environment. If you ask someone to describe or draw an engineer, you can guarantee they’ll all have some very stereotypical qualities. By being visible and engaging with students from all walks of life, you get the message out to those that wouldn’t necessarily have visibility. A diverse workforce benefits everyone and will strengthen companies now and in the future.
3 – developing new skills. As ambassador you can be taken out of your comfort zone (or not) and will have the opportunity to develop key soft skills that will help you in your everyday job. Communication skills are key and can be easily worked on throughout the course of your activities. You’ll widen your network of peers and can learn from other ambassadors, their experiences and roles, sharing transferrable skills.
Becoming a STEM Ambassador is very quick and easy to do online and requires you to only partake in ONE activity every 12 months. I’ve certainly got a lot of joy out of the work I’ve done and enjoyed giving back to society. Engineers are more and more in demand as we move forward in this fast-paced world. Climate change solutions, carbon reduction and new sustainable energy supplies are all top priority now and something engineers are desperately needed to be a part of. If each one of us can encourage just one person into the industry, then it will make a huge difference to the future of engineering and the planet.
So, are you ready to change a young person’s life? Find out more about the STEM Ambassador Programme here.