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6 ways to get young people to care about water

02 February 2024

ICE President’s Future Leaders, Aimee Jones and Evita Widjaja, attended an All-Party Parliamentary Engineering Group meeting on engineering for clean water.

6 ways to get young people to care about water
There’s so much that we can do to raise public awareness about water. Image credit: Shutterstock

In November last year, we had the privilege of attending the All-Party Parliamentary Engineering Group (APPEG) lunch meeting on the topic of ‘Engineering for Clean Water’.

The meeting was co-chaired by Professor Lord Robert Mair, ICE Past President, and Laurence Robertson MP.

The speakers – ICE Past President David Balmforth, past President’s Future Leader Ayo Sokale and past President’s Apprentice (as it was then known), Sophie McPhillips – introduced their career journeys and the challenge facing the water industry in the UK and globally.

Thought-provoking discussions with the attendees stemmed from the speeches, including how engineers play such a pivotal role in solving the pressing challenges.

Evita Widjaja with Sophie McPhillips and Ayo Sokale
Evita Widjaja with Sophie McPhillips and Ayo Sokale

The All-Party Parliamentary Engineering Group

The APPEG is an innovative parliamentary group, aiming to bring together young people with parliamentarians and the engineering profession.

The group is formed of MPs and members of the House of Lords, with a common interest in inspiring school children with opportunities for a career in engineering.

It was great to see that 70 of 120 attendees were from schools or universities, driving change collaboratively alongside parliamentarians and engineering professionals.

There were so many highlights from the meeting, however we wanted to share our key takeaways and messages.

1. Sharing different career routes within the water industry

The speeches gave students a chance to listen to the different career paths you can take as a water engineer.

Being a civil engineer in the water sector can expose you to impactful work across different aspects of the water lifecycle, take you across the globe, and present new and exciting experiences.

A career in the water sector brought Sophie to work in Gambia, working on a project to provide clean, safe water to 10,000 people in rural villages.

Likewise, David has worked all over the world and is currently a member of the Singapore government’s Coastal Protection Expert Panel on climate change adaptation.

2. Solving the water industry challenges

People often don’t think about water infrastructure, as it’s mainly physically underground and often you don’t think about it when all is working smoothly.

They touched on the complexities of the water industry – from water scarcity and quality to wastewater treatment, aging networks, and flood risk, all made worse by climate change.

More importantly, the speakers emphasised how engineers are pivotal to solving these challenges – looking to decarbonise the sector and use nature-positive solutions.

3. Engaging more young people

We have a skills shortage in the industry. We need more school children to know about, get excited by, and consider a career in civil engineering and within the water industry.

Ayo has great experience in engaging young people into engineering through broadcasting for TV, documentaries, podcasts, and a gameshow on CBeebies ‘Get Set Galactic’.

We need to showcase how interesting civil and water engineering really is, and appeal to our next generation, who will energise the industry with new ideas and innovations.

4. Preparing young people for the industry

Throughout the day, it became clear that not enough is done to prepare young people for the industry in primary and secondary schools.

We can do more to ensure students leave school to go to university or an apprenticeship with an understanding of the engineering sector.

This is invaluable to set school children up in the best possible way for the career route of their choice.

Promoting alternative options to the traditional university route, such as a pre-university placement year (which Sophie chose to do before full-time university), or apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships, will help to attract more prospective engineers.

5. Diversifying the industry

To create infrastructure solutions that are sustainable, resilient, safe, and inclusive, we need people with diverse opinions and from diverse backgrounds.

This will help to create solutions and outcomes that reflect the needs of end users.

We also want to strive for a diverse industry with equal opportunities, so that everyone can let their voice be heard and make a difference.

6. Improving public awareness

As civil engineers, there’s so much that we can do to raise public awareness about the engineering sector, but also specifically about the water industry.

We need to drive a collaborative approach throughout the supply chain, across disciplines, and with the public.

We must understand how we all have a part to play and that our collective actions can make a big difference.

It was truly inspirational to listen to the stories shared, but also gain more insight on the key challenges in the water industry and what we must all do to solve this.

We hope that many school children came away from the meeting feeling inspired and keen to pursue a career in engineering, specifically in the water sector!

  • Aimee Jones, civil engineer degree apprentice at Mott MacDonald
  • Evita Widjaja, Engineer at AtkinsRéalis