Marking UN World Skills Day

As World Skills Day approaches it’s vital that the engineering community, the wider sector and Government take action to inspire young people to train as engineers.

More young talent is needed across the construction industry to plug the skills gap
More young talent is needed across the construction industry to plug the skills gap

This Sunday 15 July has been set aside by the United Nations as World Youth Skills Day.

Young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults around the world.

While youth unemployment in the UK is lower than it was during the financial crash, and lower than most of the Eurozone, it still remains high at 11.9% for those aged 16-24, against an overall unemployment rate of just 4.2%.

The UN are highlighting education and training, as a foundational bedrock, and innovation and emergent technologies like AI, as transformative factors, which can support young people in both today’s economy and the future economy.

This is an agenda directly relevant to engineering and the wider built environment sector.

Engineers, construction workers and other allied professions face a skills gap of 400,000 workers and an aging workforce.

It is some comfort that in their 2018 report Engineering UK found that more young people are considering engineering as a career. The report revealed that 39% of 16 to 19 year olds and 59% of 11 to 14 year olds are considering engineering as a career.

It’s important that the engineering institutions, the wider sector and Government, support efforts to inspire young people to take up training in engineering.

For our part, during our bicentenary, ICE launched the Invisible Superhero’s exhibition its unique comic book look helps to interest and inspire the next generation of engineers and create a memorable experience for everyone who visits.

ICE also supported Explore Engineering an initiative providing young people and families with days out and activities to find out more about engineering projects past and present in their local area.

ICE has also run hackathons in schools, promoting the profession to students and encouraging young people to think about how they could solve the challenges of tomorrow, something we would encourage companies and other institutions to take up.

Young people are well placed to learn the skills and adopt the attitudes which will transform infrastructure delivery over the coming century.

Data Management, AI, developments in Building Information Modelling and technological breakthroughs we’re not even aware of yet, will all need the future engineer to be flexible, with an adaptable and well-rounded academic outlook.

The rate of technological advance is astounding and we need engineers who are trained to keep pace with a radically changing world.

20 years ago designs for bridges were drawn on paper – today they can be explored through 3D computer models.

A good example is Heba Bevan, a PhD student at Cambridge, who designed and developed the ‘Utterberry’. It can measure movement, temperature, humidity and other parameters, it requires very small amounts of power, and soon such sensors might require no power at all with the advent of energy harvesting.

The Utterberry has already been deployed extensively on London’s Crossrail and on other projects. Such sensors will transform our understanding of infrastructure, both under construction and throughout its life.

Both Government and industry can do more to support training and skills development.

ICE welcomes the 25,000 additional yearly apprenticeship places announced in the Governments Construction Sector Deal this month. Yet despite 90% of the sector believing more young people would benefit the industry; only 54% of companies actively train apprentices.

Collaborating to map the skills required to deliver the National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline is one significant action which can be taken in the short term.

Universities could also work to engage regional business and industry, establishing need through employer–educator dialogue, joining up existing knowledge bases with business development and working with other educational providers and organisations to develop skills plans on a regional basis.

Civil engineers can, and have, transformed lives. Today’s young people are tomorrow’s industry leaders, academics, disruptors and innovators.

If we are to meet tomorrow’s challenges we must motivate, inspire and support the next generation to use new technologies, new methods and new mind-sets, to achieve what we can only dream about today.