My interest in developing bright engineers,...
To create a diverse engineering profession, the industry must support the teaching of STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – in deprived areas.
Without a better grounding in the STEM subjects, there is a serious knock-on effect in bright young people failing to seek or qualify for attractive careers in engineering and the built environment. I had direct experience of this when Chairman of The Ove Arup Foundation and also of the Joint Board of Moderators which accredited engineering degree courses for the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Structural Engineers. A serious problem was mathematics teaching in the UK.
At one point, the problem was so great that I commissioned research into whether maths could be taught differently or at a later stage to allow entry to engineering courses with less knowledge of maths at the outset. And the problem is not just confined to the UK. I had the opportunity to observe accreditation of degree courses in the US, and some of the same problems exist there.
That was more than a decade ago, but today inner city schools still struggle to attract the highly skilled and highly motivated STEM teachers they need. Without them, it's much less likely that students from these schools will pursue a career in the built environment – something that would be a loss to both them and the engineering profession.
This is why I'm interested in the work of organisations like Teach First, a charity that transforms bright young graduates and career-changers into inspirational teachers in low-income communities across England and Wales. Arup supports Teach First, and I’ve seen first-hand how bright teachers motivate students and lift their ambitions.
It's not just money that engineering firms like ours can provide to charities like Teach First or to local schools. We are also a source of vital work experience – for teachers as well as pupils.
It's important for pupils to gain experience of a career in the built environment. It enables them to see at first hand why they need to learn the STEM subjects. But it's also important for teachers to understand as much as possible about the industries they’re preparing students to go into.
All this helps to ensure that as many people as possible who aspire to pursue a career in engineering – or architecture or planning or whatever else they set their sights on – can do so.
Closer ties between teaching and engineering can benefit the industry in other ways too. The experience of teaching STEM subjects in a tough environment like an inner city school fosters qualities that businesses value.
I know when Arup recruited someone who had been through Teach First and spent time teaching in a tough school, we found him to be worldly-wise and a strong leader and motivator. Later, when he moved on from the firm, he went back into teaching – taking experience from the industry back with him to another inner city school.
Surely this sort of thing can only be good for our industry?