In today’s world, the need for engineers is greater than ever. With the rise of social media and changes in the tech world, people have many creative options to make a living, without the need for higher education or even the most basic scholastic skills. But what does this mean for the future of engineering and innovation?
The landscape of work has changed dramatically in the last decade. Millennials were the victims of the false dream: get a degree and great, well-paying jobs will follow. Of course, we now know just what a farce that plan turned out to be. My generation belonged to a class of students that were completely duped in terms of the reality of job seeking in a post-crash climate.
An Education in Engineering
With the focus entirely on academics, even casual talk of foregoing higher education via the traditional university route was, for the most part, unacceptable. A degree is the only way to get ahead in this world. Well, four years and thousands of pounds in debt later, there stood a graduating class of engineers.
Of all those I knew, half have gone on to work in completely unrelated fields, others travelled the world and became teachers or ski instructors. The rest returned to their parents’ homes and couldn’t understand why hours of writing cover letters and hundreds of job applications got them absolutely nowhere. I know more accountants than engineers from a graduating class of one of the top engineering schools in the country.
The importance of Networking
Networking was rarely if ever emphasised during my time at university. I don’t think the word networking was ever even so much as mentioned at school or during A levels. It was all about the grades. So it’s no wonder that bright, high achieving students found themselves lost at sea. They discovered that people, often far less educated than themselves, had the upper edge because they knew how to mingle. How to make connections. How to say the right things to the right people and most importantly, how to navigate the professional world.
By now, it goes without saying. To many, if not most employers, a hefty body of past work experience is worth significantly more than a fancy degree. Nobody will care if you have a Bachelor degree from Imperial if you have no clue how to handle clients, manage a team or understand a supply chain.
This can make prospects for many young grads or those looking to change professions rather bleak. If you were raised in a time where past thinking assured you academic achievement was all you needed to succeed, you’re lacking in skills that you never had a chance to learn.
So here you are, penniless and very smart, begging to get your foot through the door. Meanwhile, every time you go online, you see the latest uneducated teenager making a killing from peddling nonsense over the internet. Here you are with an MEng and fancy references from your professors, and people are more interested in pouting airbrushed influencers. So, what? We should have spent more time learning how to do make-up tutorials than thermodynamics or machine vision systems?
Getting hired in Engineering is Hard Work
Of course not. While you’ll always see success stories that’ll make your blood boil – the latest social media “star” is making so much money, they plan to retire before they turn 35. A 12-year-old just made a fortune from NFTs – and here you are, working a 16 hour day in some hole and can barely afford your next MOT.
But the important fact of the matter is – these struggling engineers will be our first line of defence in the coming years. It’s easy to ignore climate change or wars or social injustice when they’re worlds away, but in recent days, the horrors of our changing world have started entering the so-called developed world.
And not in a subtle way. Half of Europe and now New York have seen devastating, record-breaking floods. California and Australia are on fire. Again. The Madagascar ecosystem has deteriorated to the point that famine and irreversible damage are happening before our very eyes. Let’s not even talk about the political horrors going on in Afghanistan. Or, Texas and the societal and infrastructure changes this will bring about. In times of crisis, do you really think the world is going to turn to TikTok sensations?
The importance of Engineering and STEM
STEM based education should be encouraged now, more than ever before. Science, technology, engineering and maths. This may seem like a rather close-minded and academically elitist view, especially from the point of view of the creative industries. But we must accept the realities of what the world will need tomorrow. Art will always be a huge and essential part of our lives. I myself am a very artistic person and fully appreciate the amazing impact the creative industries have on the world. And a focus on STEM does not mean at the expense of everything else. But pioneers in these fields are the ones that will be coming up with the solutions.
So how can we encourage bright young minds to turn their attention away from social media and focus their tech-minded faculties onto more practical and constructive pursuits? The answer is – experience. Just as school and university are all theory-practice for the real world – there is no substitute for in-person, hands-on exposure in your chosen field.
Consider an Internship
If you’re an engineering student it’s likely that some practical work experience or an internship will be a mandatory requirement as part of your course. But the truth is, it’s quite easy to get the bare minimum of credits so you can graduate. Most of your final score is still exams and dissertation. So don’t do it for the grade – do it for the invaluable education it will give you. Whether you try engineering internships in London or even abroad.
I took part in a pre-degree engineering programme at Durham University. I also did work experience and internships with Jaguar-Landrover and ARUP Associates. Many of my fellow students did many more. I can tell you now – it doesn’t even compare to what you do in your classes. Working directly with industry professionals, seeing how all the processes interrelate and most importantly – how your contribution fits into the whole and affects the final outcome. To say nothing of getting familiar with a proper workplace setting, learning from leaders in your field and acclimatising to the atmosphere of post-university life.
Stand your ground!
If you want to change the world for the better – and we’ll need you to – you have to have an edge. But more than that, you need that hunger and drive to push you forward and WANT to achieve something extraordinary. And the best way to do this is through internships. The more the better. And don’t forget – internships are a two-way street. The top companies specialising in STEM disciplines want the first pick of the latest best and brightest minds. Plus, many companies have long standing relationships with prestigious engineering programs, so your feedback is just as important as theirs – their reputations are at stake. In my experience, I received a lot more guidance, attention and interesting assignments on my internships placements than I did in the first couple of junior roles after university.
So roll up your sleeves, don’t be shy and apply for as many internships as possible. And if you love social media too – great – get on Instagram, get on TikTok and show everyone what you get up to, what you’ll see and get to try. Use social media for positive change, lead by example and inspire your counterparts to expand their horizons.
Be the change.