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Engaging the Next Generation? Talk.

Engaging the Next Generation? Talk.

About the Author

Jason Hyde

  • Jason is a Chartered Engineer working for Mott MacDonald’s Bridges in Manchester. Outside of work he is a STEM Ambassador, Past Chair of ICE Manchester Branch and currently a member of the Executive Committee of IABSE UK.
  • Find out more: LinkedIn

I was lucky enough to be invited by Alison Watson of Class of Your Own to give a presentation with a different audience than my usual. I’d be talking to a room full of teachers and industry leaders rather than my usual group of office colleagues or students. What followed was an afternoon of fantastic viewpoints from all sides, looking at what both the education and construction industries needed to do (or weren’t already doing) to engage with the next generation of skilled workers and construction professionals.

Jocelyn Underwood from the Manchester Chamber of Commerce gave a figure of 185,000 skilled workers needed on construction sites (and that doesn’t include the design professionals) over the next couple of years. That’s a staggering amount for the North West alone – it’s not a national figure! There is a fundamental need for our two industries to figure out why we are finding it incredibly difficult to talk to each other.

It’s as simple as talking – honest.

Both sides don’t believe that we have the time to engage with each other.

For both the education industry and the construction industry, our primary method of communication is verbal – and while we’re not always the best at it, we’re pretty good. So why exactly is it that we can’t talk to each other?

The revelation for me during the discussions over the afternoon is that both sides don’t believe that we have the time to engage with each other. Teachers have a long list of things to do when they are not teaching and equally, construction professionals have a seemingly endless supply of deadlines that only ever get closer.

For me, while it was a revelation, it was also the most frustrating comment of the day. For construction professionals, were supposed to be a the height of our game. Able to multi-task, hold complex and technical multidisciplinary meetings and manage a programme of works that’s ever changing. So, if we can do all that, why can’t we programme into our calendars two hours a year for talking to our local school.

Now, I admit, it does seem like an insurmountable task. But only because there are only a few people who are pulling out all the stops to find opportunities to talk to the next generation (and he likelihood is that’s the people reading this article). But let’s think about it for a moment. If every member of the engineering profession spent two hours per year talking to a class of 11-16 year olds, we’d have all our bases covered with very little effort.

The Proof is in the Pudding

The course and the exposure to industry professionals during visits to his class gave him he opportunity to try something new

To round up the afternoon, we heard from some pupils from St Ambrose Barlow RC in Swinton (Manchester) who talked us through some of the work they had been doing on the DesignEngineerConstruct course (run by Alison). While it’s always interesting to hear what’s going on in school, what was by far more fascinating was some of the statements they made while talking to the room (I might also add that 15 year olds talking to a room full of professionals and not phased is amazing and a testament to their abilities – and potential future careers).

Daniel (one of the students) recounted how the course and the exposure to industry professionals during visits to his class gave him he opportunity to try something new – and opportunity that other course wouldn’t have given. Luke simply stated hat he found engineering to be interesting and Bradley echoed Daniel’s comments about the opportunities that the course and the subject are presenting them with.

It’s probably no surprise that all three of the students have places on apprenticeships with engineering companies in the North West.

In summary, the proof is in the pudding. The students enjoy hearing about our exploits as engineers (mainly because there is always a physical thing they can relate our jobs to). As far as having time goes, a couple of hours a year really isn’t that much time at all – just plan it (and remember to plan it with the teacher). As far as engagement with teachers goes, even if the school isn’t lucky enough to be running the DesignEngineerConstruct course, remember engineering is the application of maths, physics, English, art, design technology and IT (to name the main ones).

Some go ahead, speak to a teacher, offer to come and talk to their classes and inspire some young minds to join the engineering profession.

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  1. Felix Faber

    Could this ‘time for engagement’ be pushed forward by the professional institutes? I’m sure it already counts as CPD hours but a specific requirement to do something for others – be it charity, outreach or mentoring – would be a powerful lever to pull.

    • Jason Hyde

      Hi Felix,
      It’s an interesting point – and one that was raised during the conversations. Institutions can (and indeed should) make it a mandatory part of CPD. It’s certainly part of the pre-requisite for the ICE’s professional review (Attribute 9C “Engage with ICE Activities”), but it doesn’t extend beyond that (as a requirement). I’m not 100% certain what the IStructE mandates, but I suspect it takes a similar approach.

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