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Teens interested in tech, but few seek career in engineering

Most teens show an interest in technology, but do not want careers in engineering due to industry misconceptions

More than 80% of 16 to 17-year-olds are interested in technology, but only 21% are interested in an engineering career, according to research.

A study by the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize) found 82% of 16 to 17-year-olds in the UK think engineering is integral to the future of technology innovation, but less than a quarter want to pursue it as a career.

“We need to do more to educate people on the role engineering plays in technology and help young people understand that technology is a product of engineering,” said Christopher Snowden, chairman of the QEPrize judging panel and vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton.

The research found teens would be more inspired to go into engineering if they could use it as an opportunity to change society. Some 36% of teens said their motivation for going into technology would be to create innovations that would make a difference to the world.

The 16 to 17-year-olds ranked helping society as a greater motivator to entering engineering than income levels or job security.

More than 70% claimed climate change and depleting energy resources would be concerns in the future, and felt engineering would be able to address these issues in the next 20 years.

Breaking down stereotypes

Science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects still have a reputation for being difficult, putting many potential candidates – especially girls – off entering the sector.

Almost a third of 16 to 17-year-olds claimed they felt a career in engineering would be too hard and they would be unable to gain funding for training.

Industry professionals claim the industry should work with schools and parents to break down these stereotypes and give children a better idea of what a Stem career entails.

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“Our sector needs to work together to overcome some of the outdated stereotypes and old-fashioned notions that engineering isn’t a career suitable for women,” said Nigel Whitehead, group managing director at BAE Systems.

“We must do more to show all young people – and their parents – that engineering is a great career choice. We need to be bolder about the importance of Stem subjects,” he added.

According to the QEPrize report, UK teenagers show more interest in entering engineering fields (85%) than the global average (81%).

However, although UK teens showed more interest in Stem subjects than those in Germany, Japan and South Korea, they fell behind all other countries.

Skilled IT and Stem workers are in high demand in the UK, with more than 90% of firms claiming they are facing some sort of skills shortage.

Read more on IT jobs and recruitment

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This perception that engineering would be too hard isn’t developed overnight - it stems from the teens’ experiences with STEM subjects throughout their education. Sadly, perception is reality, and there is no quick fix.
There is more to STEM than engineering, as supported by the spelled out acronym, so schools definitely need to be doing a better job about explaining the various options out there for them to be considering in the science, technology and mathematics industries as well.
Of course there's interest from teens. It's actually exciting stuff. Alas, it's far too often taught in crammed classes by underpaid teachers from outdated textbooks, all carefully monitored for "bad thoughts" that might corrupt young minds. Few labs, little hands-on, no time to keep every student moving forward.  

When it comes to education, our priorities are 180 degrees out of sync with reality. And growing worse by the day. Science gets no respect and general education doesn't fare much better.

Since there is so little funding for  education, the task falls to everyone one of us. If you know something, teach it. As volunteers, of course, but it's work that has to be done before we start working in empty offices....
I've heard many stories of engineers who have a productive 10 year career and are then let go as they become too expensive or new skill sets are required. Will engineering be a profession or a collection of technical skills in the future?