Technology loving teens don’t make the link with engineering

UK teenagers’ interest in technology is top of the world while enthusiasm for engineering has hit rock bottom

To mark British Science Week, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering has published new research showing that, out of all the STEM subjects, the UK’s 16 -17 year olds are most interested in technology. The report, named the Create the Future Report, surveyed ten of the world’s largest economies and found that UK teenagers’ interest in technology was 4% higher than the global average, at 85%. In fact, across all STEM subjects, UK teenagers’ interest outstripped that of young people in Germany, Japan and South Korea.

The report also found that 82% of UK teens see engineering as integral to technical innovations. However, when specific interest in engineering was measured, the rate dropped dramatically. Only 21% of UK teens questioned were interested in engineering as a career, a proportion of teenagers lower than all the other countries surveyed.

Only 21% of UK teens questioned were interested in engineering as a career, a proportion of teenagers lower than all the other countries surveyed

Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, the newly appointed chairman of the QEPrize judging panel and vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton, said: “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. The challenge facing the engineering community is to shift the love of tech to a love of engineering. There is no silver bullet solution to this issue, but if we work together as parents, teachers, companies, institutions and even governments, then we will see a change in attitudes and debunk the myths surrounding our profession.”

When UK teenagers were asked what would inspire them to become an engineer, the highest motivator, at 36%, was the opportunity to create new innovations, have an impact on society and make a difference to the world. Teens ranked these benefits above career opportunity, income and security and respectability. However, the report discovered that around 30% of potential engineers were put off the career as they felt an engineering degree was too hard, too expensive and that they lacked adequate funding for training.

Lord Browne of Madingley, Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation said:“Engineering is an exciting career offering endless opportunities to create the next technological innovation and tackle the biggest issues facing the world. Sadly, it suffers from an image problem in the UK that must be reversed if we are going to attract the next generation into the field.”