What do you think are the reasons behind the overall decline in engineering apprenticeship starts in recent years? We are particularly interested in understanding more about supply and demand.
Image. It persists even now. In fact, the paper that asks these questions has images of spanner turning. It’s so easy to pick royalty free pictures that pop-up from search engines searches. These images show mechanics in blue overalls. Don’t get me wrong, this is not the least bit disrespectful of spanner turning.
A deep cultural memory persists. It has multiple elements. You could say, in part, industrialisation, still conjures up images of dark satanic mills contrasted with grand country homes of a class of business owners. Basically, dirty, and clean as two key words.
The Victorians did a great deal to both elevate engineering personalities, like Brunel, but to hold them as different or apart from the upper middle-class society that the fortunate aspired to join. Those who forged the prosperity of the age had to work hard to be accepted in “society”.
Today, it makes no difference that’s it’s American, popular comedies like “The Big Bang Theory” entertain us immensely but pocket the “nerd” as eccentric, peculiar and unfathomable. I admit this is attractive to a proportion of young people but maybe such shows create exclusivity rather than opening people’s eyes to possibilities.
Having Government Ministers standing=up can calling for Britan to become a version of Silicon Valley doesn’t help. Immediately, that signal is heard from those in authority, young people switch “off”. To boot, the image conquered up is a whole generation out of date. We have the Windows 95 generation telling the iPhone generation what’s the best direction to get to the 2030s.
Here’s a proposition – you must see yourself as an “engineer” to become an engineer. That can be said of a whole myriad of different professions. Each with a common stereotype. Look at it the other way. If you cant’t see yourself as a person who can shape the future, it isn’t likely you will choose engineering.
My observation is that we need to get away from too many images of activities. In other words, this is an engineer at work. This is what they do. This is what they look like. What we need to address is the touchy-feely stuff. Let’s consider how young people feel about the world they have inherited from my generation.
A high level of motivation comes from the wish to make changes and the feeling that it’s possible to make changes. That the skills picked-up as an apprentice will help you shape the future. Engineering is part of making a better world.
[My history is that of an Engineering Industry Training Board (EITB) apprentice who started work in 1976.]