When I was a teenager growing up in the 80s, I can clearly remember the “practical” lessons at school, and the satisfaction of building things – like my first ever circuit to power a lightbulb. These moments undoubtedly shaped my choice to become an engineer.
Those “eureka” moments are powerful for any young person. When you realise that you can put multiple things together to create an entirely new thing, it sparks a passion. Whether it’s beautiful or practical, suddenly that young person is a builder, an inventor, a creator – and, yes, an engineer.
For me, that literal lightbulb moment has stayed with me throughout my career. Today, I find myself surrounded by like-minded colleagues, passionate and focused on customer-centric innovation.
However, not all young people get the inspiration needed to find those shaping moments, or the support to build on them. We need to improve awareness of engineering and the different routes into the profession to spur on the next wave of innovation.
Engineering is vital to the UK economy. Every time a new engineering job is created, 1.74 jobs are created elsewhere on average, and yet engineering skills are in short supply. According to EngineeringUK, 46 per cent of UK engineering employers have difficulty recruiting talent with the right skills.
I believe part of the challenge lies in updating our definition of “engineering”. It’s not just hard hats, spanners, and cables – the reality is that almost every industry requires engineers in one form or another. Yet outdated misconceptions about the career create barriers, preventing the diverse workforces that we desperately need.
Stereotypes, language and imagery used when talking about innovation and engineering play a huge part in profiling what it means to be an engineer or innovator. We need to take a step back and ask: are we focused on fixing these misconceptions and changing assumptions? Ignoring this much-needed change will be costly.
Taking computer science as an example, new research from Capital Economics and commissioned by Amazon revealed that the UK needs an additional 38,000 workers with computer science-related skills – including 21,000 computer science graduates – to meet annual labour demands.
Unless we fill the skills pipeline, the UK economy risks losing out on an estimated £33bn per year by 2030. Just a 10 per cent increase of women working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers could boost the UK by up to £3bn per year.
The economic case for diversity is clear. But let’s be honest, people need more than just economic arguments.
This is why we believe it is important to mark This Is Engineering Day on 6 November, a campaign led by the Royal Academy of Engineering in collaboration with EngineeringUK that aims to show more young people what engineering really looks like, and why it could be a rewarding path for them.
This is a great example of industry, educators, and government all working hand-in-hand to shatter stereotypes and provide real-life examples of engineering in action. Ask Alexa today what an engineer looks like, and you may be surprised. Visit one of our fulfilment centres, and you may see robotics workshops being run for schools. We are committed to playing our part, aiming to reach and inspire more than a million young people in low-income communities through Amazon Future Engineer.
There is no single face of engineering. Only by challenging outdated views and preconceptions will we be able to ensure a healthy future for the UK industry. Engineering was my springboard into an exciting career, and it is my ambition that we continue to create more routes for young people to experience its profound importance, inspiring them to do the same.
Main image credit: Getty