Employment outcomes of engineering graduates: The stubborn issues

The Royal Academy of Engineering recently published its report on employment outcomes for engineering graduates for the year 2013/14. The good news is that the employability credentials for engineering remain strong, with 81% of engineering graduates in 2013/14 managing to be in full-time work, further study or a combination of both 6 months after graduation. Of course, this is significantly better than the corresponding figure of 76% for all graduates. However, a closer look at the figures reveals that still, all is not well. The perennial issues pertaining to gender diversity, ageism, social and ethnic exclusion are still evident in the engineering employment figures, and it is these issues that I focus on in this article.

First, engineering is still the only discipline where male graduates outnumber female graduates in employment 6 months after graduation. The only consolation is that this gap appears to be closing. But this pales into insignificance when you realise that women make up just 12-15% of the cohort. This is an agonisingly small proportion given that women increasingly outnumber men in most subject areas. In fact, a woman stands a better chance of securing a job within 6 months of graduating in virtually any other subject area when compared to engineering.

Is it that engineering employers still shun female graduates, even now when we are in a supposedly more enlightened age? Or is it that somehow university lecturers are still in the business of killing off any female interest in engineering? Of course, there have been improvements on both issues compared to previous years, but it is quite clear that these improvements have not gone as far as we would wish. As the saying goes, the last mile is the hardest, and this appears to be the case here.

Again ageism still reigns supreme in engineering. Graduates over the age of 25 are more likely to be unemployed than their much younger colleagues. In fact, you can easily double your chances of being unemployed simply by turning 25 years or more. Added to this, you are significantly more likely to be unemployed 6 months after graduating if you opted to do your engineering degree at a post 1992 university instead of going to a traditional research intensive university. Is it that the teaching in post 1992s is particularly bad? Certainly not. In fact, these institutions are at the forefront of leading innovation in engineering education.

This apparent ageism can only mean one thing: If you are from a working class background and aspire to improve yourself by taking an engineering course at the local university down the road, then you may have to be prepared for the worst. Clearly, ageism and institutional exclusivity have implications for social mobility, and because of this, these two issues need to be addressed by all members of our engineering community.

We in the UK pride ourselves for our ethnic inclusivity. Indeed, we have made huge strides in addressing ethnic exclusion in various areas of our lives. Sadly, for engineering this is still work in progress. When it comes to graduate employability for non-white, or Black or minority ethnic (BME) graduates, engineering comes out at the bottom. For the year in question, 2013/14, only 46% black graduates were in employment 6 months after graduating, compared to 71% of white graduates. Also, whilst 60% of white graduates secured jobs in engineering, only 40% of BME graduates managed to do so.

Finally, whereas in all subject areas your chances of securing a job are diminished if you fail to get a 2.1 or better, this is acutely accentuated in engineering. Here academic snobbishness still reigns supreme, and it does so to such an extent that failing to get a 2.1 or better means that you double your chances of being without a job 6 months after graduation. This is unfortunate, since it is still a moot point within the engineering sector whether or not there is a correlation between a graduate’s degree classification and performance at work. Were this correlation to be established beyond any reasonable doubt, then our quest for more effective and authentic learning, teaching and assessment methods would be over.

So what can we say? Only that for everyone involved with engineering, our work is still cut out. We still have much to do before gender, age and ethnic inclusivity are achieved in engineering. And for those still unemployed 6 months after graduating, don’t give up. And for engineering employers, give our non-traditional graduates a chance. After all, diversity improves innovation, and who knows, your organisation’s future may depend on that one non-traditional graduate whose CV you have committed to the paper shredder.

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