Given the global shortage of qualified engineers, the need to attract more students into the profession is well-recognised.
Yet due to the fiscal constraints many governments now face, budgets for technical education and training, as well as career support services, are set to come under enormous pressure going forward in a number of countries.
The United Kingdom is a case in point. To meet industry demand, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IME) says the country needs 31,100 new graduates per annum for the next five years.
Despite this, the IME says, funding cuts to career counselling and work experience programs under new austerity measures will result in fewer school students entering engineering and technical courses.
Already, the Institute says, some schools have indicated that career counselling services will be scaled back in response to the measures, which involve slashing funding for career services in schools by £200 million, the loss of key support for programs such as Connexions, Aim Higher and the Education Business Partnerships and the discontinuation of support for employers who participate in the Key Stage 4 work experience program.
Even more concerning, the IME says, some schools may discontinue face-to-face counselling support, choosing instead merely to point students to web sites.
The Institute fears these factors will reduce the capacity of students to develop an awareness of the breadth of opportunities available in science and engineering-related professions.
IME director of engineering Dr. Colin Brown says the new measures are short-sighted. He argues that the UK career advice system is lacking as it is, and that cutting funding rather than improving services will place the country’s longer-term economic prospects in jeopardy.
“The UK’s career advice system is still sorely lacking,” he says. “We need to be boosting funding to ensure we can steer talented young people into careers which are vital to the country’s future like engineering and science.”
Instead of tackling the problem, he says, the UK is “cutting funding, scrapping face-to-face counselling in schools and there is still insufficient involvement from industry. We need the people in industry who are creating these jobs to provide careers advice, particularly given that many teachers and career advisors are unaware of the realities of working in different industries.”
The IME says that instead of being forced to bear funding cuts to career services, all schools in the UK need adequate resources to help students understand future labour market needs. In addition, the organisation feels all careers advisory agencies should have at least one specialist in engineering and technology careers.
The IME says science, technology and engineering teachers throughout the UK should themselves be provided with opportunities to continue to develop their awareness of career paths for students in their respective areas.
Will this be a trend?
The concern for the industry is that what is happening in Britain right now with work experience and careers services may be a sign of things to come across much of the western world – extreme fiscal pressures on education and training at a time when the engineering profession needs more graduates to meet industry demand.
If the world is to train and develop enough engineers to meet ongoing future requirements, it is imperative that career guidance and work experience programs, not to mention technical education, be adequately funded and resourced in spite of these pressures.
Unfortunately, the latest developments in Britain are an ominous sign.