Recent research by Birmingham University has revealed that only 46% of engineering graduates were employed in jobs requiring their degree skills six months after graduation. With this in mind Dr Gordon Mizner of EDT, explains how companies can help prepare students for careers in engineering
The findings announced by Birmingham University in September certainly created quite a stir in engineering circles. The core statistic that only around half of science and engineering graduates go into careers related to their degree is familiar and has many causes. These include the fact that good engineering and science graduates are in demand in other careers, not least in the city and in finance functions in industry. It is also true that some courses are highly specialised and the supply and demand match in these specialisms is indeed poor.
We also know that quality is a real issue, not solely related to the knowledge acquired on the degree course, but also to the employability skills and future development potential of the graduates. Finally, of course, there are graduates who decide that their previous perception of a career in their chosen degree subject does not match the reality, and that they wish to pursue an alternative career.
Keeping students informed
I would like to suggest that there should be more focus on what we do to inform and prepare students as they are making their subject choices throughout their secondary education. EDT runs a number of programmes, including at the A level and gap year stage, that develop students’ personal skills and gives them an insight into what particular careers in science and engineering are really like.
The experience of Jonathan Wilde who spent his pre-university gap year on the EDT’s ‘The Year in Industry’ programme at global vacuum and abatement company, Edwards, is typical of the right way to prepare students for their degree courses.
Wilde commented, “Working on commercial projects in an international company has completely changed my outlook. I am now going into my degree with a much greater understanding of how engineering is applied in a commercial environment and with well developed skills in terms of project management, time management and presentation skills. These not only give me an advantage going into my degree but also will make me much more employable once I graduate.”
I would argue that many of the issues which the Birmingham research highlights can be overcome by channelling pre-university students into business linked programmes like ‘The Year in Industry’, which gives them a much better idea of what a science and engineering career looks like, an insight into the particular specialisms that they might wish to pursue, and helps them to develop the personal skills that they will need to be more employable when they graduate. In this way we can ensure a much better fit between the qualifications that students are getting and the future careers that they want to pursue.
It is a mistake to assume that it is lack of demand that makes science and engineering students pursue other options when they graduate. Very often it is because they did not have the right information and training before they embarked on their degree. While apprenticeships will provide an alternative feed into science and engineering jobs, we need to make the graduate route work more effectively as well. A much better fit between the skills and aspirations of science and engineering graduates and the jobs that are undoubtedly there for them in the future, will be achieved by giving them good information and training before they set off on degree level study.
There is scope for businesses to engage much more effectively with students before university, giving the students the information and skills they need to improve their post-university employability. The companies involved also have much to gain from the exercise. Alstom Power has a strong partnership with EDT programmes, including mentoring sixth form students on the ‘Engineering Education Scheme’. Commenting on the national success of a team from Rugby School, Helena Austin, human resources director at Alstom UK, said, “It’s so encouraging to see a group of young people with such passion and aptitude for science and engineering - they represent our next generation of experts and we’re thrilled to see their work celebrated. There is a wealth of young talent in our industry and the EES initiative is important as it allows students to gain in-depth, hands on experience of engineering, design and research at a professional level.”
With such clear benefits to companies and students alike it is surprising that more companies are not positively engaged in working with schools to inspire students into engineering careers. A concerted and effective approach to this issue would make a distinct improvement in the employability of future engineering graduates.