EngineeringUK has published a research briefing on social mobility in the industry, the research highlights that only 24% of those working in engineering come from low socio-economic backgrounds.
The research found that:
- 44% of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) achieve an A*-C grade GCSE in maths compared with 71% of non-FSM pupils; the respective figures for physics are 8% compared with 23%.
- In A level Maths, 54% of those eligible for FSM in school achieve an A*-B grade, compared with 66% of those who were not eligible. The corresponding figures for physics are 39% and 52%.
- Just 1 in 10 engineering and technology first year undergraduates come from the most disadvantaged POLAR4 quintile.
What are the barriers?
To address the skills shortage and reap the considerable benefits a more diverse workforce can offer, more must be done to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to study and excel in STEM and work to identify and tackle barriers that may inhibit them from pursuing engineering.
- Lower levels of prior academic attainment, including in STEM subjects
- Lower levels of science capital
- Negative perceptions or misperceptions of engineering
- Patchy, socially-stratified access to careers education and work experience
- Schools in disadvantaged areas being less likely to offer triple science, potentially affecting students’ ability to study engineering-facilitating subjects at A level, such as physics
- A lack of appropriate data to monitor and evaluate interventions
A host of barriers can make it difficult for those from disadvantaged backgrounds to get ahead in the labour market. However, this problem is not unique to engineering and there is a clear appetite for change within the sector. There is reason to be optimistic about the engineering sector’s ability to promote diversity and inclusion. Technical education reforms, targeted efforts to engage underrepresented groups in STEM and employer-led initiatives represent significant steps to improve opportunities for disadvantaged pupils.
Nevertheless, it is apparent more can be done. Efforts to address the skills gap are rarely targeted directly at young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and well-resourced schools remain more likely to have thriving STEM clubs, to enter their pupils in STEM competitions and to take their pupils to STEM engagement and careers fairs. A concerted and directed effort is needed to engage and inspire schools in disadvantaged areas.
Moreover, cultivating talent and aspiration is only one aspect of advancing social mobility through engineering. Further work is needed not only to inspire young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue a career in engineering, but also to support their careers once in the profession.
Progress on both these aspects will need to be carefully monitored to ensure that efforts to advance social mobility in engineering have their desired impact.