What is a STEM ambassador? STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and maths; being an ambassador means representing, in my case, engineering as a potential career opportunity. A key part of being an ambassador is explaining my role in the industry, how I came to be a Principal Engineer at Patrick Parsons and what my role involves.
Being an ambassador is important to me as one of the challenges that I face and which is common across the industry, is the skills shortage in engineering. I believe that if we can give young people a better idea of how their natural interests and abilities can align with a career in engineering then more of them will choose to study it at school and obtain the relevant qualifications. This should lead to more and more engineers coming forward and hopefully the pressure can ease across our industry. We also risk losing a huge amount of knowledge that has been gained over the years if there isn’t the next generation to pass it on to. In the UK we have a massive and proud heritage in engineering and we should talk about it more. We all remember Brunel in the Olympics – how many people knew his name before that?
From a personal point of view, I think it is imperative that we widely promote our industry so we can create a more diverse work force. Studies show again and again that a successful team is a diverse one! As a woman in engineering, I feel that it is especially important for me to encourage and inspire the next generation of female engineers. Currently only 12% of the UK engineers are women (Engineering UK 2018 report), but with 46.4% of girls 11-14 considering a career in engineering, these figures should only increase.
As a STEM ambassador part of my role involves speaking at schools, at careers fairs or days themed around STEM subjects and just explaining some of the possible jobs that exist within the engineering industry. I’ve been at careers fairs in the past talking to students who have said they have no interest in engineering, but then as we’ve talked further they’ve explained they do have an interest in design, technology and other subjects that closely align with STEM careers. Engineering is a really varied industry and that sometimes makes it difficult for someone not in the industry to understand the opportunities open to them. So let’s all talk more about what we do and be proud of the contributions we make!
My experience of people who have chosen to become engineers, is that they knew someone already in the industry and so it was an accessible career choice. That’s certainly true for me, as my Grandad was a chemical engineer so I already had some context; my niece is now considering engineering because she knows what I do. I think our industry is an exciting thing to be a part of and I honestly believe if more people knew what they could do with a STEM career, more people would choose it. The onus is on us as engineers to get the word out though! Without promoting engineering and having more visible positive role models across the industry, how can we expect people to join us? And we need people to join us so we can all continue to develop, learn and advance ourselves and the industry whilst maintaining that continuity of knowledge that we risk losing.
Author: Olivia Plunkett
Principal Engineer, MEng CEng MICE