To ensure a strong engineering and technology workforce for the future, we need well-qualified STEM teachers now, but schools continue to struggle to recruit them. EngineeringUK CEO Dr Hilary Leevers considers the importance of encouraging engineers to teach.
I’ve written in nearly every monthly column about engineering labor shortages and the various factors behind them, but I don’t think I’ve talked enough about teachers. In order to progress in engineering and technology, young people must learn the fundamental subjects by inspiring teachers with specialized knowledge. Unfortunately, there are shortages in the main feeder subjects that draw young people into these fields – math, computing, design and technology (D&T) – with more acute shortages in physics. Indeed, only around a fifth of physics teacher training places have been filled in England this year, with similar problems, to a greater or lesser extent, across the country and, indeed, in many other countries. . There are also long-term issues in higher education, where engineering and construction are the subjects reporting the highest number of persistent vacancies.
How can engineers help? Quite simply, more could choose to become teachers or lecturers in college schools. I suspect that for many engineers, teaching is not an obvious career choice – even though there are vocational courses in engineering, there is no obvious major, compared to French students from undergraduates, for example, who might see teaching French as an obvious possible career option.
In fact, there are several thousand engineers teaching in STEM, but recruiting more into teaching could really boost the workforce. Admittedly, there is a little short-term harm in slightly reducing the number of talent currently working in research and industry, but the long-term benefit would be worth it.
We are particularly interested in seeing more engineers teaching physics, as it is the subject with the greatest shortage of education and a relatively small number of graduates to recruit from – only 3,500 per year. Surprisingly, if only 1% of engineering graduates taught physics, that would increase the supply of physics teachers by almost a third.
Engineering suffers from issues of equity of access – this includes an under-representation of women and people from poorer socio-economic backgrounds. These two groups can be particularly affected by teacher shortages. Sometimes a school does not offer a subject because it has not been able to recruit teachers. Other times, non-specialist teachers will cover it instead (for example, biologists or geographers teaching physics). By definition, it seems likely that these teachers are less interested in these subjects, since they have not chosen to study them in detail themselves. Unfortunately, we know that schools with more young people from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to have specialist teachers – so they will either have limited subject choice or teachers with less specialist knowledge. Furthermore, evidence shows that girls are more sensitive to the quality of teaching than boys.
EngineeringUK has been exploring options to address teacher shortages with the Institute of Physics and the Royal Academy of Engineering, and talking to policy makers about this issue. The Ministry of Education is currently piloting a bespoke initial teacher training course specifically to help engineers train to teach physics, recruiting from six centers for September 2022. To be clear, any engineer can still apply to teach a range of subjects through regular teacher training. course, and many will be eligible for significant priority scholarships, but the hope is that this course – and the associated marketing, communications and media coverage – might attract engineers who might not otherwise think of teaching.
Please help us spread the word about the new ‘Engineers Teach Physics’ course – and remember anyone who is already studying or working in engineering, or has done so, is welcome.
Many engineers are motivated by the societal benefits of their work and have excellent communication and teamwork skills. They could inspire young people with their understanding of the importance of engineering and technology in solving the world’s greatest challenges. We hope that having more engineers teaching STEM, and perhaps especially those who have worked in engineering and technology before, will help contextualize the teaching of STEM subjects in an engaging and meaningful way. , correcting young people’s misconceptions about the careers they pursue, and for whom they are destined.
I hope you will agree that there is a real opportunity here and help spread the word to encourage more people qualified or already working in engineering to consider a career in teaching. Filling all teacher vacancies in physics and other important subjects like math, D&T and computer science would make a huge difference in our ambition to secure and diversify the future engineering workforce.
Hilary Leevers is CEO of EngineeringUK