The importance of engineers for the UK cannot be overstated.  From re-building the Forth Bridge to sending astronauts like the UK’s Tim Peake into space, scientists and engineers are contributing to our world in more ways that you can imagine.

Yet we have a problem.  The UK is running out of them.  Employers, including Shell, will need to recruit an additional 1.82 million people with engineering skills by 2022. And, according to Engineering UK, we are looking at the prospect of a yearly shortfall of over 55,000 engineers.

Research published recently by the Your Life campaign, of which Shell is a sponsor, reveals the absence of practical information for young teenagers and the impact this is having on their educational and career choices.

The picture in primary school is promising, where 75% of boys and 72% of girls say they have an interest in science.  However, when A-Level choices are made, the figure halves with only 32% of boys choosing two Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths (STEM) related A-levels.  

The problem is starker for girls: by the time they come to make their A-level choices, only 18% of girls asked would choose at least two STEM subjects.

Young people cited STEM subjects as being “too theoretical” making it difficult for them to understand how to apply skills to practical situations, and indeed their careers.

A number of students highlight a simple but damaging misconception: “it’s just not for people like me”.  This is particularly true of girls, who are even less likely to consider a profession in engineering.

Practically this is denting our ability to engineer solutions to societal problems like how to make our cities smarter and how to meet the energy demands of a growing population as we transition to a low-carbon economy.

This is why Shell supports a range of STEM initiatives such as donating over £1m to support Tomorrow’s Engineers  - a national schools programme that aims to inspire the next generation of engineers. With Shell’s investment, Tomorrow’s Engineers has launched a new school programme – The Energy Quest - to help students explore the science and maths behind energy in a fun and engaging way.  Over three years the programme will reach 650 schools, providing careers information and hands-on engineering experiences to some 70,000 students.

I believe that it’s vital that we continue to build effective collaboration between businesses and schools so that we empower young people, and especially girls, to develop the critical skills that will underpin UK competitiveness now and in the future.

Find out more about Shell’s contribution to tackling the STEM challenge.

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