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Engineering Exodus

After reading over some recent research conducted here in the U.K., I became extremely concerned about the gloomy picture it painted—a future shortage of engineers due to the plummeting numbers of engineering graduates.

The research was conducted by Loudhouse on behalf of C-MAC MicroTechnology, a British electronic systems, modules, and components company. A survey of 100 engineering department heads and 250 undergraduate engineering students highlighted the problems facing the British engineering industry. This included the challenge of enticing teenagers to study engineering, and then, crucially, retaining graduates within an engineering career.

Here are some of the dismal findings. Firstly, a total of 45% of universities reported a drop in course applications over the past three years. Many say schools are at the root of this problem. Reasons? The majority of academics (76%) believe it to be the demanding nature of engineering subjects; however, 58% also blamed schools for not promoting engineering as a career option.

Also, 75% of academics admit that engineering suffers from a serious image problem, something that I think has been apparent in the U.K. for decades. When I trained as an engineer in both England and Germany, my German engineering colleagues were referred to as Herr Doctor. Conversely, in England, I constantly got the impression that when I told people I was an engineer, they fully expected me to have an oily rag sticking out of my back pocket.

But even for those who do opt for an engineering degree at University, I was amazed to read that two out of five engineering students don’t intend to become engineers when they graduate. A total of 94% of University lecturers believe that no more than half of engineering students will pursue engineering careers.

Moreover, despite the fact that 90% of students consider engineering to be their first choice of degree, only 60% of them actually want to become an engineer. Amazing. Why? Here’s what the students said. The top turn-offs were overly demanding course content (66%); heavy mathematical content (62%); courses are boring (46%), and they have been "put off" since beginning the course (44%). Only 32% attribute it to financial difficulties. So how come they didn’t know about some of these things before setting out to enroll in an engineering course?

I believe that schools are just not doing enough to explain what a career in engineering really means. Pupils need to be told that engineering is demanding, but also very rewarding from both personal satisfaction and financial perspectives. It also offers tremendous career and business prospects in the long term.

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