Social Media Has an Important Part to Play in Stemming the Engineering Shortage
Written by Tom Smith, Managing Director at Advanced Dynamics
I want to start by telling you a story about my dad.
You see, my dad is a fantastic engineer. He’s a master with anything that involves mechanics. He can strip an engine down and put it back together in 30 minutes flat with his eyes shut. His mathematical skills are fantastic and after turning to engineering, despite leaving education with no qualifications, he’s made an excellent career for himself.
Why is that important? Well, because apparently, there aren’t enough people like my dad anymore in the UK.
Let’s start with the well-documented facts and the statistics:
- Engineering is an ageing profession – in 2021, there was a spotlight shining on the state of engineering, with one report stating that the average age of people within the profession is increasing into the 50s.
- Substantial skills gaps – aside from that, a report carried out by Search Consultancy back in March 2021 showed that manufacturing and engineering was the worst affected sector for skills shortages, with 85% of businesses currently feeling the strain from a lack of skilled workers.
- Worsening situation – go back a little further and statistics registered in 2020 by Jonathan Lee showed that 19.6% of engineers in the UK are expected to retire in 2026.
- Big demand, not enough takers – a report by NewEngineer showed that EngineeringUK has been tracking the annual demand for engineers and technicians needed just to keep pace with infrastructure and other engineering projects. It was estimated, last year, that 203,000 roles are required annually – more than half of which are engineers.
- What is an engineer – this is a key point here. Last year, EngineeringUK found that there was insufficient awareness of what engineers do as well as a misperception of what engineering is in schools across the UK. A report also stated that almost half of those between 11 and 19 years old say they know ‘little or nothing’ about what engineers do.
What we have known for a long time is that more needs to be done to promote a career in engineering at the school level, something that, in my opinion, is just as essential as subjects like Maths, English and Science.
Movement in that area is starting to take place.
You may have heard of the fantastic #EngineeringKidsFutures initiative, which is being led by a formidable group of more than 150 world-leading engineers and scientists, including major figures like Major Tim Peake, Carol Vorderman, MBE, and will.i.am.
For context, #EngineeringKidsFutures is being led by Professor Danielle George, President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), and has been built to urge the Government to help tackle the UK’s skills shortage by embedding engineering into current primary school learning.
“This focus and support for schools is fundamental if we want to futureproof the next generation of engineers,” Professor Danielle George said.
Her words could not ring more true. However, there is another strand to this. We cannot dismiss the role that social media is already playing in re-engaging young people in a career in engineering.
In fact, it can be argued that it, scarily, is doing a better job than education right now.
Engineering Influencers Are a Growing Trend
It’s impossible to argue with the trends.
We live in a world that is dominated by social media, a world in which billions of short videos are being consumed every day on platforms like TikTok and Instagram.
With that in mind, we hopped on both platforms to find out how hashtags – used as a primary tool to reach specific audiences – relevant to engineering are performing.
|Instagram (posts with hashtag)||TikTok (video views with hashtag)|
|#engineering = 12,108,445||#engineering = 4.5 billion|
|#engineeringlife = 1,005,385||#engineer = 2.4 billion|
|#engineeringmemes = 870,092||#engineerlife = 136.9 million|
|#engineeringstudent = 652,098||#engineeringstudent = 195.3 million|
|#civilengineering = 2,616,928||#civilengineering = 639 million|
|#mechanicalengineering = 1,481,667||#mechanicalengineering = 241.1 million|
|#electricalengineering = 898,114||#electricalengineering = 169.3 million|
|#structuralengineering = 412,667||#structuralengineering = 7.6 million|
Note: the above data is correct as of Monday 7 March and is based on global information
What Is Driving This Popularity
Natural curiosity is the biggest driver of the above engagement figures.
It’s no secret that video is the most popular form of content right now on social media. The dance phenomenon is a great example of this, constantly reinventing itself and creating trends and sequences for others to replicate and follow.
Engineering has gone down a different path, with its creators tapping into consumer curiosity by using video to showcase clever how-to guides and creative experiments.
And not that engineering isn’t a cool discipline, but some of the content that is being created is by influencers like Mark Rober (767,000 followers) and Colin Furze (446,000 followers), as well as profiles like engineering_everything (198,000 followers), that are leading the way in promoting a career in engineering to a younger audience.
Engineering has evolved as technology has.
It’s my feeling that, actually, engineering is becoming cool again. People are beginning to understand that it’s not a boring job and a large part of that is down to the technological advancements we have seen over recent years.
Engineering is a very futuristic, almost robotic, career. That is attracting more youngsters into the industry and it is platforms like social media that are, right now, leading the way in raising awareness about this.
But far more intervention is still required if we are to engage younger audiences and get them excited about a career in engineering.
For far too long, education in this area has been neglected and as a result, we have a generation in which there are more people that are leaving school with no basic knowledge of DIY than those that are.
As a nation, we’re far less hands-on than we used to be and over time, that has created a burden and reliance on those that have been engineering for years.
In the short term, the engineering industry has some difficult hurdles it needs to overcome. But by incorporating elements of engineering from primary school age and better engaging with tools like social media, we stand a far better chance of engaging Gen-Z and bridging the gap in the long term.