As the STEM skills gap gets bigger, ipso facto, the pool of skilled engineers gets smaller. This topsy turvy increase/decrease is leaving many people wondering what this means for the future of the industry and for the goal of net zero, if there aren’t engineers to call upon.

Speaking at ‘Why engineers should consider a career in teaching’, an online event hosted by the IMechE, Royal Academy, Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), and the Department for Education (DfE), Dr Rhys Morgan cited that there has been a “chronic shortage of electrical engineers and the supply has been going down over the last 20 years. So, we’re in a really serious situation in terms of being able to meet our net zero ambitions.”

Why aren’t there as many engineers?

“There aren’t enough people teaching subjects that lead on to engineering,” Dr Morgan comments. “For as long as we can collectively remember there have been reported shortages in industry of engineers and technicians, and in many respects the situation is getting worse, not better, particularly with things like the government’s net zero ambitions.”

It was also highlighted that an engineer would not only be best placed to offer the latest industry insight to students, but engineers, by their very nature, are innovative and creative, so they would deliver subjects with added passion and enthusiasm, driving the message forwards of the importance of engineering, and how creative and fun the industry can be. Their advice, according to Dr Morgan, will be much more granular as opposed to simply telling children and young adults ‘study STEM’ – which doesn’t help.

How many teachers does it take to make a difference?

Referencing physics students, Dr Morgan continued to say that if just 1% of graduates decided to teach that would have a “disproportionate effect on the number of teachers in physics, something like a 30% increase in the amount of people going to teach physics on an annual basis.”

But if there aren’t the teachers to awaken the next generation of engineers, how do you fight that battle? If a teacher is knowledgeable in their chosen field and they have passion and enthusiasm about the subject they’re teaching, that infectious energy is more likely to encourage the next generation of engineers. In turn, that next generation engineer could then be inspired enough to become part of the 1% who go on to teach and inspire the future generations.

Seeking diversity and offering incentives

Also speaking at the online event, Neil Adams, Teacher Training Advisor at DfE, commented that by the time they are in their early teens, pupils have most likely decided on the career path they want to follow, so by virtue of knowing other engineers, it could make a difference. “More involvement in schools from engineers, whether it is through teachers or through things like the STEM Ambassadors programme … the more connection students are able to build with engineers, particularly if they happen to be from a family or socioeconomic background where they don’t come into contact with engineering professionals at all, then the more likely we are to be drawing from a broader base of potential students when it comes to careers in engineering.”

As well as searching for a diverse populous, incentives such as higher wages, project working opportunities, 12-week holidays and the chance to shape the future of engineering on a macro-level are being used to encourage more teachers into the sector. There may also be the option of flexible and part-time teaching. However, to achieve this model a lot of work will be required from the government, schools and engineering profession.

How do you know if teaching is right for you?

Volunteering is a good starting point because it allows engineers to try teaching without giving up their day jobs. Become a STEM ambassador, volunteer, get involved in outreach work with schools to get a real insight into what being a teacher means, offered Professor Helen James OBE, Education and Skills Strategy Board Chair at IMechE.

Teachers are needed because engineers are needed

At a time when flying cars, self-driving busses, therapy robots, portable ultrasounds and turbine blades-come-sweets, to name a few, are striving to become the norm, it is important that the engineers of today are there to welcome the innovators of tomorrow.

We are living in a world of constant evolution, but without the teachers there to support potential engineers to push industry forwards, demand will eventually outstrip supply. And for every innovative concept there needs to be the continuous drive, not only towards achieving net zero, but also of maintaining it.