Thursday, 5 February 2015

A career to change the world...

At 16 years old and with no idea what I wanted to do with my life I received an unexpected call; my school had been approached by a company who wanted an apprentice and the school were going to recommend me. A career in engineering had never crossed my mind; I didn't even know what a Civil Engineer was.

Back in 1998 the internet wasn't the fountain of knowledge it has now become so I arranged an
appointment with the careers centre. I wanted to know just what I would be getting in to, what did a Civil Engineer do, how long would I have to study, what qualifications would I get and how well would I be payed? Unfortunately the lady I met with didn't really have a clue either! She walked me to a local construction site, a small school I think it was, and told me that an engineer was the person who turned up in their fancy company car, checked how the work was getting on, and then went back to their warm office to do some 'design'!

To cut a long story short, I eventually became that engineer that works in an office (not always warm I might add!), and visits site to see how things are getting on, but there's so much more to it than that and many times in the years that followed I rued the day I waved my friends off to college and started working in the real world. The experience left me with no doubt of the importance of sound career advice both for aspiring young engineers and those who might never have considered it just like me. Although I now find myself in a career I thoroughly enjoy, the journey getting here has had its ups and downs and I would have hugely benefited from sound advice along the way.

So how have things changed? Well for a start we now have the internet and there's a wealth of knowledge out there if you know where to look. The massive rise in social media gives access to real people like never before, real engineers with real experiences, a currently untapped resource. Then there are career events where engineers like myself stand on a stall and wait for the occasional shy person to approach your desk while being poked by their friends; those who really want to talk are often only interested in the free pencils and rulers! Though there are many larger consultants and contractors doing great things with school leavers and graduates, in effect little has changed. Many young people are not given the opportunity to have a proper grown up conversation about a career in engineering and, I suspect, don't know who to ask or what questions to ask. As useful as websites are, nothing can replace real conversations with real people.

The stall reads "A career to change the world", but how does one impart on young minds how exceptional a career in engineering can be? What can be done differently to raise awareness of the profession and really engage with young people? and how do we go about building a network of engineering ambassadors with a direct line of communication for those considering a career in engineering or those already on their journey and looking for words of advice?

"How does one impart on young minds how 
exceptional a career in engineering can be?" 
- Lee Meadowcroft

I don't have all the answers but I do feel we as engineers have a responsibility to make ourselves available to the next generation, to spread the word and to share our knowledge. Somehow we need to do more to build that link between students and professionals and to reach out and make ourselves available. Are you an engineer and enjoy what you do? Then why not make yourself available to answer questions, engage on social media and attend events if you can spare the time. Using your experiences to give an honest portrayal of what it means to be an engineer could make the world of difference to someone struggling to make important life decisions.

For those looking for career advice I suggest you check out the websites linked below but if you really want to know what it's like to be an engineer, then ask an engineer, put yourself out there and engage with those people best placed to provide the answers to your questions.

Some links to get you started:

The Institution of Civil Engineers
The Institution of Structural Engineers
The Construction Industry Training Board

"It is a great profession. There is the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realisation in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings jobs and homes to men. Then it elevates the standards of living and adds to the comforts of life. That is the engineer’s high privilege"
- Herbert Hoover