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FPS chairman's blog: Where’s the sex in tech?

Promotion of the geotechnical sector as a career to undergraduates, graduates and apprentices is a core part of the work undertaken by the Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS).

In fact the FPS has just completed a video for use through various academic channels, including social media, highlighting the various career options available and the different academic pathways those interested can follow.

Now while this video is aimed squarely at those who may have already started, or are considering, a career in civil engineering and aims to highlight the opportunities in the geotechnical sector, it doesn’t address the more fundamental problem of getting young people interested in technical subjects in the first place. Report after report highlight the lack of interest young people show in studying technical subjects – maths, physics and chemistry - at school, and study of these subjects is in decline. This does not bode well for the future of the UK economy, which needs skilled science and engineering people to ensure its continued growth.

Closer to home, I have spoken before about how the construction sector is not without its own problems in attracting talent, deriving either from its poor image or the perceived lack of opportunities compared to more fashionable careers. While there is still some way to go to address the perception of construction the problem may actually start at a much younger age, way before subject decisions are made by young people. Simply put, kids just don’t find science or technical subjects appealing, and that cannot all be their fault.

Some reports cite the lack of quality science teachers, unable to engage with children sufficiently well enough to make science stimulating, although other studies suggest the smorgasbord of subjects available to young people overwhelm them with choice. I also think culture is partly to blame; we celebrate the arts, “celebrity” and sporting achievements far more than we do aspects of science: it rarely gets a look in. This lack of enthusiasm in the media, perpetuated in wider society, just doesn’t make science and engineering attractive as a subject matter. Technical subjects are also viewed as difficult, and this influences the subject choice of youngsters who may lack confidence or support when faced with what looks like an easier subject route to university.

“Culture” is not easy to change, but we must look at ways of doing it before it becomes critical. We should do more to celebrate and promote science and engineering, taking it decisively out of the shadows and the domain of the “geeks”. Everyone, from parents to teachers, employers to government have a role to play in this and we should evangelise the opportunities, variety and rewards – including financial – that the study of technical subjects opens up.

But we must not delay – we must do it now before it really is too late and the UK becomes a society that buys in its expertise from overseas and risks the future economic growth.

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