Creating Opportunities for the Next Generation of Engineers in Aviation

September 29, 2021

Creating Opportunities for the Next Generation of Engineers in Aviation

Headshot of Kushilka Zaharia  By Kushilka Zaharia, Head of MRO Operations at AMETEK MRO

In a post pandemic world, many of us are looking forward to a brighter future, free from restrictions, social distancing, and masks however, what would your future look like if you were a 16-year-old and deciding what to do next with life?

Many students have experienced the uncertainty of teacher-graded assessments to determine their future, and whilst statistics show that the number of the top A & A* grades have been an all-time high, the impact of the pandemic on the aviation industry has resulted in a reduced uptake of aviation related higher education.

Prior to the world-changing events of 2020, I regularly dedicated time to STEM activities with local schools and colleges, by participating and leading outreach events targeted at GCSE and A Level students. With the support of school careers advisors and teachers, these events were aimed to stimulate young minds to understand what it means to be an engineer, particularly in the aviation industry, through open discussions, classroom exercises and Q&A sessions.

I first got involved in STEM outreach when I was invited to speak at an event at my old school; an all-girls church school in West London. I was the first student to enter university on an aerospace engineering degree from my school, which was a proud achievement at the time. However, it was not until I graduated from Durham University and started my first graduate job that I realised how underrepresented females are in all aspects of engineering – academic, professional and research-based roles. This led me to ensure that I dedicate time to feeding back information to students through STEM activities with hope to encourage more young people, especially girls, to take up this challenging and rewarding profession.

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A lot of the feedback I have received from students is that they don’t know exactly what engineering is – a common misconception is that engineering is all spanners and tools. This is echoed by the Chief Executive of EngineeringUK, Hilary Leevers who says, “While we have seen a significant rise in the number of young people reporting they have attended a STEM careers activity in the past 12 months compared to previous years, we have not observed a corresponding increase in positive views or knowledge of engineering. As a community, we must cultivate a greater understanding of how engagement activities can affect positive change through robust research and a shared evidence base.”

Figure 1 shows how the knowledge of engineering amongst 11 to 19-year-olds from 2015 to 2019 has dwindled over time. Now in 2021, this data is vitally more important to acknowledge given that touch time between students and teachers/careers advisors were reduced significantly during 2020, and as a result our focus on reigniting STEM activities and conversations matter now more than ever.

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Earlier this year, whilst many schools were relying on virtual classrooms to deliver lessons, in order to keep up with my dedication to STEM across my local network of schools and colleges, I recorded a series of videos to share my experience of working in aviation; I answered some "frequently asked questions" which were sent to me by a school teacher. In an effort to continue engagement on this important topic, this initiative demonstrated that whilst the pandemic posed challenges for face-to-face interaction, there are still opportunities to achieve STEM outreach.

Whilst I appreciate the significant challenges that many aviation businesses have felt over the last 18 months, I reach out directly to all of my LinkedIn contacts reading this article as a plea to think about the future of our industry with the future generation in mind. We won’t be able to keep this incredible industry going unless we invest in our young people and nurture them to be the stars of tomorrow. So, I challenge you and your business leaders to take the step to create opportunities within your organisation to enable the next generation learn and contribute to the engineering success of the future.

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