When it comes to solving problems engineers are geniuses. Our government and society looks to them to provide solutions to the big issues of the day, be they global warming, power generation, communications, infrastructure and many more.
So with such a reputation it’s surprising that there is one dilemma still puzzling this select group of resourceful thinkers.
“How to attract the young to join their ranks?”
Engineers work around systems, facts and figures but this is one situation where hard data won’t contribute to the solution. Attracting people into a sector relies upon softer values, emotional issues and factors that lie outside the professional comfort zones of most engineers. It’s something that can’t be measured or predicted.
Indeed, I’d be so bold as to say that most engineers are not ‘wired to connect’ with the broader society that is so dependent on their genius.
A recent London School of Economics social studysupports this proposition. In it, the LSE details Britain’s new Technical Middle Class:
“This class that makes up about 6 percent of British society shows high economic capital, very high status of social contacts. Members of the class include pilots, pharmacists, science professionals, physical scientists, senior professionals in education, business and research.
Many are graduates are from prestigious universities with strong reputations for science and technology such as University of Warwick, University of Cambridge, University College London, University of Southampton, and Imperial College London.”
A key characteristic is that members of the Technical Middle Class
……” have the lowest number of social contacts of any of the classes, though these do tend to be high status, probably mostly other professional experts. It is relatively culturally disengaged with both highbrow and emerging culture and less engaged socially and culturally with the arts and humanities”
Put simply our Technical Middle Class, in which engineers and related professions squarely sit, is very intelligent, economically successful yet, by their nature socially out of touch.
‘That’s not me!’ you may scream, and it could well be true, but such a report is borne out of substance and analysis and let’s face it, engineers trust data.
There is nothing wrong with this, we all have strengths and weaknesses, but this social trait is one element in answering the question of why Engineering collectively fails to attract the number of youngsters that it needs. Engineers are simply not wired to communicate effectively beyond facts and stats.
The plain truth is that facts and stats don’t attract. People today are not motivated by WHAT or HOW they are inspired by WHY?
Today’s young are aspirational. They seek a career choice which is to do with fulfilment and being part of society.
To grab the attention of youngsters at this juncture, when their view of life is often utopian, Engineering needs to embrace the fact that WHY is the overriding factor in early decisions about careers.
Within this context ‘becoming an engineer to make things’ such as ‘periodically poled modules for second harmonic generation fibre lasers’ has no pull – it’s a turn off.
You become an engineer to ‘solve the great challenges of our time’ or ‘to make it possible to explore the unexplored’ would be a better starting point.
In summary therefore, we need to embrace the realisation that great engineers are not great communicators within society and think laterally for solutions. As Sinek advocates “Start with Why?”