How can we encourage more students to study chemical engineering? (Day 257)

I recently came across an article featured in the Guardian online, eight ways to encourage more students to study engineering, which proved to be a rather interesting read.

The article outlines potential solutions to the engineering skills shortage faced in the UK and the rest of the world. And I have to say that I agree with their suggestions – put together by academic and policy experts.

Classroom scienceHowever, I have to commend the chemical engineering community for already having taken action to increase student numbers. For example, in the UK student numbers have been increasing year on year. In fact, over the last five years there has been a 97 per cent increase in the numbers of students starting a chemical engineering degree course – that’s nearly double!

But we still need to do more to bridge this skills gap.

The Engineering UK 2015  – The state of engineering report, which was published in January, highlighted an annual shortage of 55,000 engineers; with 257,000 new vacancies in engineering enterprises needed between 2012 and 2022 in the UK.

The call to action is pretty clear; we need to encourage more students to go into engineering. And it’s us, today’s chemical engineers, who are best placed to attract more students into our subject area.

Being able to identify where we can have most impact upon students is key. If we take a look at the Guardian article it makes eight suggestions:

  • Lower tuition fees
  • Reform the curriculum
  • Talk to primary school children about what engineering is
  • Improve careers advice
  • More financial support
  • Sector-wide contribution to training engineers
  • Better coordinated initiatives
  • Increase industry collaborations

These suggestions were applied to the engineering landscape in the UK, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t applicable globally.

Talking to schools about chemical engineering is vital to securing the next generation of chemical engineers. Supporting IChemE’s whynotchemeng campaign and becoming an ambassador for the profession is a great place to start.

Communicating our message that chemical engineering matters is key to being a successful ambassador, but we have to think on all levels: local; national; and international.

I’ve blogged about how chemical engineers are perceived in the media, and there is a consensus that we need to do more to promote our profession. So pro-actively approaching the media, either on an individual basis, or with the help of IChemE, could raise our profile.

The more information that we put out there about the work we do will improve careers advice for those students who are thinking about their next steps.

Engineering is about problem solving, it’s an empowering career and one that makes a real difference. Dispelling myths about chemical engineering and engineering more generally is also important, see my blog ‘Ten common misconceptions about chemical engineers debunked‘.

Perhaps, as individual chemical engineers, we can’t address such problems as tuition fees, financial support and reforming the curriculum on our own. But we can encourage our employers to see the value in schools outreach and collaborations between industry and academia.

We are the voice of our profession, so let’s make it heard by the next generation.

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If you have any suggestions on how we can encourage more students into chemical engineering, please contact me via the blog.

3 thoughts on “How can we encourage more students to study chemical engineering? (Day 257)

  1. In my country, Chemical Engineering as a profession is not as rewarding as in developed countries. Lets say in the job market chemical engineers and chemists are treated equally and always given the same opportunities and same titles (chemists). Some have regarded this field of engineering as best fitted for developed countries and not developing ones. How can we be helped?

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