Engineering needs to shed its 'dark, satanic mills' image

Universities say a bad reputation should not deter students from the subject, which can lead to well-paid careers
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number of other engineering organisations, is to launch a multi-million pound advertising campaign in a bid to attract more students on to engineering courses and in gene ral to make young people see this as a viable and attractive career.

Almost every university is reporting to have a large number of places available on their engineering courses across the board - and those which seem to be doing the best are those combining the subject with business, marketing and management so s tudents can see a clear career structure.

Computing science is recruiting very well.

Some universities are saying that the fall in applicants is due to the fall in the number of students taking A-levels in physics, maths, an d chemistry - others say young people seem to be put off by the "nerdy" image engineering incorrectly has. As one student said, "people think that to be an engineer you have to get your hands dirty". There is also a very strong perception that engineering courses are hard work, and there will not be as much time for fun. Then there is the issue of salaries - again the perception is that graduate engineers do not attract particularly high wages. Ove r all there seems to be sense that very few people know what engineers actually do. Andrew Ramsay, the director for engineers' regulation at the Engineering Council, says all these issues must be tackled so the engineering industry - which is rapidly expanding- can attract the quality and quantity of engineers it needs. He says: "The fact is that engineering is a very good career prospect. Far higher numbers of engineering graduates gain appointments in management roles soon after leaving university than almost any other course. "The progression through the salary levels is also very rapid." Mr Ramsay says that young people have the perception that engineering courses are "easy to get on but hard to do". "The clear message that we would to promote is that it is worth it. Students just have to bite the bullet and get on with it, because the career rewards at the end are so great." He says the industry must work hard to lose its "dark, satanic mills" im age. "Evidence from a survey carried out by the Engineering and Marine Training Body amongst school-children found that they perceived engineering as being carried out in "grotty factories". Yet of the 300,000 companies the Engineering Council represents, less than 22 per cent are actually involved in manufacturing. The majority are working in health, education, health transport, retail and hyper-markets.

Even those who do work in factories are now working in tightly controlled environments which are extremely clean. The organising bodies are now seeking to spend around pounds 5m per year on the new advertising campaign to correct all the misapprehensions which exist about engineering.

The Engineering Council has also recently compiled a report looking at graduate employment and salaries for engineers. The average salary for all graduates was around pounds 15,500 in 1997 - science and engineering graduates were earning on average over pounds 16,000 in their first year of work.

Six months after graduation, applied science graduates were more likely to be in permanent employment than graduates from any other discipline. The 1997 survey showed 97 per cent of engineering graduates were in employment. Further studies showed that mathematical science graduates (mostly computer scientists) achieved the highest salaries of all graduates, followed closely by engineers.

By 1997, 57 per cent of engineering graduates were earning in excess of pounds 20,000 per year. Taking the profession as a whole, the average chartered engineer's salary was pounds 42,159, while for incorporated engineers it was pounds 31,152. A survey of employment also showed that there is a continuing high demand for technical professionals.

Andrew Ramsay says: "We do appreciate that engineering courses can seem to be hard work compared to say, social sciences, but clearly the rewards are there for both men and women, if they're prepared to knuckle down and make the best of their time at university."

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