Engineering has a lot of interesting careers within it, but when I graduated with an Electronics degree and was looking for my first role, I struggled to find any positions that reflected the same quality of innovation that I had enjoyed on my course. Nor could I find successful engineers, visible in the public sphere, to give me motivation to pursue this career.
I’ve often wondered why there aren’t more compelling role models in the field of engineering and innovation. While we can all name historic engineers such as Alexander Graham Bell, Isambard Kingdom Brunel or John Logie Baird, how many schoolchildren can name an engineer who is still alive and working in the field? Where are the modern ‘Brian Cox’ style movers and shakers that people can look to for inspiration?
But, once I had entered the industry, and was surrounded by other, enthusiastic engineers all day every day, I began to see more and more just how many people are out there doing fascinating things: from landing Rovers on Mars, to creating plug-and-play electronics kits for kids to completely rethinking the design of the hand-dryer.
If I talk to other engineers about what they’re working on, their eyes light up when they learn that I’m an engineer too and they will explain what they’re working on with a lot of passion. But if they’re speaking to someone outside the discipline, they will often gloss over the details of their jobs without conveying the same sense of excitement because ‘I don’t want to bore you…’
As engineers we need to get better at explaining what makes engineering so exciting. I work for Finmeccanica – Selex ES on laser warning systems that can detect laser beams from all angles in split seconds, and warn the aircraft, potentially saving lives. I think it’s thrilling! There are engineers working on fascinating projects right now, but we’re just not hearing about them. Engineers aren’t the only ones who need to get better at explaining to audiences why it is such a cool profession - we need help from the rest of the industry too. The industry as a whole needs to capture this information from their engineering talent, so that it is properly reflected in the job specifications that they create.
Engineering jobs are interesting and they’re fun, but I only really discovered this after working in the industry –there was nothing to suggest this in the job specifications I saw advertised! The engineering I do today is high-tech, innovative, cutting edge; nothing like the hard hat image of engineering which I typically see in the media, full of people in grease-smeared overalls. So my direct experience of engineering is quite different to the perception I had before entering the industry. It is a broad discipline which is hugely varied- not just between civil, mechanical and electronic engineers, but even within these divisions there are systems engineers, design engineers, production engineers, etc. I work in design, which allows to me come up with new ideas and work out how to apply these in the most practical way. That’s fun, challenging and different every day and I don’t know many careers who offer this kind of absorbing work, yet these roles still aren’t being publicised properly outside of the industry.
I think the main reason more people don’t choose to go into engineering is that they don’t know what it really means and they can’t imagine what it would feel like to work as an engineer. Added to this is the fact that engineering careers aren’t often highlighted as a career option to most people. They might be good at physics and maths, but their educators (both parents and teachers) often do little encourage them to consider engineering, simply because it isn’t on their own radar.
When I go into schools to talk about what I do, I try to talk to the teachers as well as the students, and help them understand that I don’t work on a factory floor: my job at Finmeccanica – Selex ES is a varied and creative role, in a dynamic high-tech industry. Engineering has the scope to directly change the world around us, and allows us to design solutions that can make an impact on everyone’s lives . That is remarkable in itself and we need to get better at tapping into the excitement that follows once you realise that.