One of the parts I enjoy most of being an active member of the IET are the opportunities to evangelise Engineering, so the annual careers day at St. Peters School was a good way to spend a saturday morning.
Armed with a few boxes of magazines, leaflets and keyrings (and a fresh cup of tea), I set forth to spend a morning sitting behind an old school exam desk to try to encourage The Youth of Today to pursue engineering.
One trend that I noted from talking to the 15-17 year olds was that subjects like computers and hi-tech just weren’t on the agenda, the most popular opinion of what interested them was “I like to make stuff” and “I don’t like maths”.
I can certainly sympathise with that perspective, not many people do seem to like Maths, but unfortunately it is the common language for describing how the world works and is rather hard to escape these days.
I had a couple of gadgets and props with me to attract attention and provide an initial context for conversation and even the “can you find your house on this?” map didn’t seem particularly interesting, even though about half hadn’t seen it before.
Perhaps it’s time to come up with more simple, physical, props to use? One memory I’ve got from that age was a changable ratio gear box that my best friend’s dad built out of Lego Technix. Beat the heck out of learning about Mechanical Advantage in a GCSE CDT classroom.
Or perhaps single-article extracts from the IET’s magazine for that age range, Flipside. (It’s actually a good magazine for general coffee-table reading)
The day wasn’t a total waste of time though. Normally a group of 2-4 children would pause by my exam desk and a conversation would slowly strike up, but one person sat down on their own and immediately asked “Please describe your daily routine?”. After one of the more thorough non technical interviews I’ve ever been through, it turns out this particular person was very interested in the practical application of science and had some excellent coaching to get the most out of the careers day. Pretty unique in my experience and I wish them the best of luck.
A pleasing indication that I did an OK job of the morning was one comment as I was packing my stall away, “the architect and that other engineer made it sound really dull, so I think I’ll do this one”.
Yay for the IET!
It also turns out that I’m not the only person to spot the decline in interest for IT, there’s a short news story in the March 2007 IET Engineering and Technology magazine, titled “Young ‘See No Future’ In ICT”
The full story can be found about halfway down this page, but to ninja a couple of quotes:
“The UK is in the top tier of countries carrying out research in information and communications technologies (ICT), according to a panel of global experts, but its position is threatened by a lack of interest among young people.”
“As well as a persistent hangover from the dotcom bubble, the shifting of jobs to countries like India and China is giving young people the impression that the industry as a whole is ripe for outsourcing and has little future in the UK.”
This seems like quite a mature opinion of what the cause might be, I did have to wonder if anybody actually tried asking young people of the correct age what might increase their interest in this area. Then I noticed a final quote from the news story:
“Glasgow University’s Computer Science Inside project, which is developing workshops designed to fit into a school lesson slot of around 40 minutes”
What a damn good idea (and a good reuse of a popular acronym). More please.