Engineering the future

Parents may be restricting their daughters’ futures because of outdated stereotypes about career choices, says new research

Research released by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) to mark the launch of its Engineer a Better World campaign states that only seven percent of parents would encourage their daughter to pursue a career in engineering. In addition, the research reveals that parents could be limiting their child’s future career decisions by having outdated perceptions of the jobs they think boys and girls are interested in.

Parents of girls stated that their child would be most interested in pursuing a career in education and childcare (32 percent), the arts (29 percent), healthcare (26 percent) and hair and beauty (23 percent). In contrast, parents of boys stated that they thought information technology (47 percent), Sport (33 percent) and Engineering (28 percent) were all sectors that would appeal to their child.

When asked about which subjects they enjoy at school, STEM subjects (science, design and technology, ICT/computing and maths) topped the list for children, particularly ICT/computing, which was enjoyed by more than half (52 percent) of the children interviewed. Although slightly less fond of STEM subjects than boys, 39 percent of girls said they enjoyed ICT/computing, with the same percentage also enjoying design and technology. Among STEM subjects, 38 percent of children said they enjoyed maths, with a further 36 percent saying they also enjoyed science. Yet even though STEM subjects seem to be popular among girls, only 6 percent of the engineering workforce in the UK is actually female.

As part of the research, IET also explored the perceptions of the engineering profession amongst parents and their children. When asked what they knew about engineering, 54 percent of children stated that they didn’t know anything about careers in the industry. When it comes to their interest in pursuing a career in engineering, girls are twice as likely than boys to say that they are not interested in finding out about careers in engineering (11 percent vs 5 percent).

Furthermore, two in five parents (41 percent) stated that if asked by their child for advice about a career in engineering, they feel they wouldn’t know enough to support them. This figure is even higher among the parents of girls, with almost half (44 percent) saying they don’t know enough about engineering to help.

As part of its research, IET also gave parents and children some information on the careers available in the engineering sector. After seeing this, both parents and children were more interested in what the sector had to offer. In fact, 72 percent of parents agreed that they would encourage their child to pursue engineering as a career – an increase of 30 percent of respondents before they were shown the information.

In addition, before being more informed, fewer than half of those parents with girls would encourage their daughter to pursue engineering. Having seen the information this figure rose from 45 percent to 67 percent – an increase of almost 50 percent. The figure also rose substantially among girls themselves, rising from 32 percent to 61 percent – a substantial rise of 90 percent. 

William Webb, IET president, said: “STEM subjects form the backbone of the engineering industry and help it to continue growing and innovating. We see clearly from this research that girls do have a genuine interest in these areas but this doesn’t translate to the number of women entering the engineering industry. The data from our research clearly shows a need to engage better with girls and their parents about the importance of STEM subjects and the world of opportunities they can open up for young people in the engineering industry.

“The research also shows that there is a growing need to change perceptions of what modern engineering is and what it can offer girls in terms of a career. The key to doing this is by changing the perceptions of parents who are highly influential in their child’s decision making processes and showing them that engineering doesn’t have to be a messy, mechanical or physically demanding career choice.

“In order to do this, IET has joined with a number of industry stakeholders to develop the Engineer a Better World campaign, which looks to engage with parents and their children about the exciting career opportunities that engineering has to offer. It’s only by making the right resources and information available that we can ensure the engineering sector of the future has the rich and diverse mix of talent it needs to carry on growing and innovating.”

Paul Jackson, chief executive of Engineering UK, said: “As a community we need to overcome negative and/or outdated perceptions of engineering to encourage more young people to consider it as a career option.

“Campaigns such as Engineer a Better World help showcase the range of fantastic opportunities offered by engineering and, crucially, give parents the information and tools they need to support the potential engineers of the future.”

The IET suggests the following starting points for parents with children who might be interested in learning more about engineering:

Faraday The IET’s collection of online engineering teaching resources

First Lego League The IET’s global science and technology competition for teams of students

Tomorrow’s Engineers Information and resources about careers in engineering

Your Life A campaign to give young adults in the UK the maths and science skills needed to succeed in the global economy