Applications and Software

Online Experiences Can Relieve Career Anxieties Of Coronavirus Generation

Hilary Leevers, CEO of Engineering UK, looks at how technology is helping young people to explore a greater range of career options as scientists, technicians and engineers
Six primary aged children holding up masks they have made on 3D printers
3D printing where ideas become products

No doubt the fallout from the pandemic will significantly shape young people’s lives in ways we’ve yet to even consider. What we do know is that it is already having a profound impact on their future aspirations, and rousing anxieties related to the career opportunities available to them.

At EngineeringUK we are determined to inspire tomorrow’s engineers. We want to increase the number and diversity of young people choosing academic and vocational pathways into engineering. We set out to influence education, government and industry and to inspire young people via programmes and projects such as Tomorrow’s EngineersNeon and Big Bang .

Motivating young people

Research we conducted  earlier this year revealed that the majority of young people aged 11 to 19 felt that the pandemic would adversely affect the educational routes and job opportunities available to them. More than half agreed that finding a job or going to university had become more difficult. In the current environment of uncertainty, factors such as job opportunities and security have become more important for young people.

Not only are young people concerned about their next steps in education and employment: research from The Sutton Trust has suggested that the disruption of lockdown is likely to lead to ‘significant detrimental effect on the prospects of young people once they enter the labour market.’

STEM can lead to engineering

At a time when young people are unsure about their futures, it is especially important that they can explore career options, plan ahead, and be motivated to study.

There are still amazing opportunities available for young people and, we believe, that for many, the job security and fulfillment they seek could be found in STEM and engineering.

Nine students looking at a range of sensors and robotic toys
Energy Quest programmes can be delivered remotely and/or in a classroom

Now’s the time to show young people the opportunities available to them in engineering. We know that young people who have taken part in a STEM careers activity are three times more likely to consider a career in engineering.

Our research also found that over 80% of 11 to 19-year olds who said they knew a lot or quite a lot about what engineers did, had positive views of engineering. Participating in STEM and engineering experiences and learning more about what engineers do and who they are they are helps young people see themselves in engineering roles. That’s why it’s so important to keep engineering outreach going at this time – digitally and online.

Adapting activities for the virtual world

Since lockdown, many providers of STEM experiences and outreach activities have rapidly had to rethink their offerings so they are Covid-secure. They have come up with an array of activities and experiences that bring careers to life.: everything from tackling real-world engineering problems in class, to live online sessions to create a future city, to creating virtual racing cars.

To support teachers in accessing such resources and experiences, we recently launched Neon. This is a digital platform that gives teachers easy access to quality assured online and offline STEM and engineering outreach activities.

For the first time, Neon brings together the UK’s engineering experiences and career resources in one place,. With the support of the engineering community Neon provides teachers with the tools to engage young people in a career in the engineering sector, which employs nearly a fifth of the UK workforce.

With the practical challenges that coronavirus places upon teachers, online experiences offer a way for them to easily engage with a diverse range of inclusive engineering experiences, safe in the knowledge that each activity is quality assured, helping young people to form vital links between school learning and real careers.

Digital is not second best

It’s important that online or digital experiences are not viewed as ‘second best’ when compared to traditional activities such as school trips or in-person visits. With the launch of Neon, we want to broaden the range of engineering outreach opportunities available to all schools.

In considering diversity and accessibility, there can also be a hugely positive aspect to in-class online activities. Such activities provide schools with different opportunities and greater accessibility, breaking down geographical boundaries, providing access to experiences and engineers from around the country and indeed the world. They can engage large numbers of students, including those who, for a range of reasons, may not engage as well in face to face events.

For example, the ‘I’m an Engineer, Get Me Out of Here’ project connects engineers from across the world with classes via an online Q&A. It reports that often 90% of students actively engage in the activity, asking multiple questions via the portal.

Being online democratises the experience. Importantly, the reduced admin (and potential cost-saving) of online and in-class experiences are attractive for time-pressed teachers.

Laying the tracks for great online experiences

Network Rail, a company that is doing great work in engaging with young people, acted quickly to take outreach activities online. James Richards, Engineering Capability Manager told us recently that students have been overwhelmingly positive about these online experiences. He’s reported that, although they need more data, ‘It feels like the learning outcomes have been as good as we would usually see from traditional face-to-face programmes.’

James has also offered some useful advice to teachers seeking online engineering experiences:

  • Online activities simply should contain interactive content – those with interactive elements consistently receive better feedback from students
  • Do not be afraid to really challenge young people during online tasks, they are much more savvy, creative and capable than you might think
  • Be mindful of ‘screen time’ – experience is showing that students have a focus time of 20 mins maximum before needing a break
  • When using interactive mediums e.g. Teams/Zoom, you must establish etiquette rules from the start

Essential workers during lockdown

The coronavirus crisis has shone a spotlight on the brilliant work of scientists, technicians and engineers responding to the needs of the nation. We’ve seen exceptional examples of engineering across essential services and infrastructure – from the design and delivery of thousands of ventilators to the building of NHS Nightingale field hospitals and of course, in vaccine development.

In fact, over three quarters of young people said they recognised the importance of engineers in developing new ventilators, keeping people connected through the crisis and turning spaces like exhibitions centres into hospitals.

With this increased visibility, educators now have a golden opportunity to open young peoples’ eyes to engineering as the relevant, pervasive and exciting sector it is – such impactful examples have the power to inspire. As Engineering UK’s research shows, young people want to pursue careers that have a positive impact. With so much focus on the value of STEM skills, now is the time to engage young people in the amazing ways engineers are supporting society during the current crisis.

Rewarding careers

Let’s not forget, engineering will continue to be hugely important in responding to national and global challenges, from the pandemic to climate change. As such, it will continue to receive government support and offer valuable careers. I truly believe the future is bright for young people, and that their desire to pursue careers that make a difference will make for a rewarding working life and help the UK engineering sector soar.

We know that right now school leaders and teachers are focused on ensuring children close any vital gaps in knowledge that have resulted from lockdown. There are many competing priorities, but I would urge schools to include impactful careers experiences and opportunities in that list.

No matter the current logistical challenges, my plea to school leaders is to join us in supporting teachers to continue to deliver transformative experiences in creative ways. 

Four tips that help teachers deliver great online experiences

1. In considering digital experiences, seek out social and interactive options. Digital doesn’t

just mean watching videos and passively listening. Encourage online activities that

support group working and discussion.

2. Connect engineering to real-world role models that your students can relate to. Look for

activities that promote engagement with real engineers – with online experiences there

are opportunities to access engineers from around the world, and with Neon we are

making it even easier to connect to local engineers.

3. Share ideas, encourage discussion and set time aside for teachers to think creatively

about how to bring STEM activities into the classroom

4. Bookmark Neon as the online hub where teachers can easily find a fantastic range of

inspirational STEM and engineering experiences. www.neonfutures.org.uk

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