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Could An Educational Game Help Close The Engineering Skills Gap?

We need engineers 

Engineers will be vital for our society as we meet the challenges of the climate crisis and work towards our net zero goals. Their knowledge, creativity and problem-solving skills are needed to develop new technologies and combat climate change. 

However, not enough young people are entering the profession to meet current, let alone future, demand for core engineering skill.  

A recent report from EngineeringUK found that there is still a significant gender gap at all levels of the education pipeline. 150,000 more girls need to study A Level maths or physics to equal the number of male undergraduates studying engineering and technology degrees. 

The number of young people beginning engineering apprenticeships is declining as well. The amount of young people beginning such apprenticeships is 9% lower than in 2014/2015.  

EngineeringUK estimates that society will need 124,000 engineers and technicians every year to meet current and future demand. 

While this is a complex problem, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) believes that an engagement programme for 16–18-year-old students called the ICE CityZen Award may be part of the answer. 

The CityZen effect 

Now in its second year, the ICE CityZen Award is already having a measurable impact on the students who participate. 

Of the 540 students who took part last year, one third said they were interested in civil engineering as a potential course or future career at the beginning of the competition. 

By the end of the experience, nearly 80% of students who took part in CityZen said they would consider civil engineering as a career.  

The competition’s reach has nearly doubled (45%) since it launched, with 982 students taking part in 2022, bringing the total number of student competitors who have taken part to 1,522.    

Four boys holding their certificates
Students from Hillhead High School, Glasgow.  (l to r): Carl Hass, Anas Al Aoubaedy, Finlay Hood, Murrad Al Dabbagh. Photo – Kieran Chambers Photography

When asked what they enjoyed most about the competition students from the Gold Award winning team of Hillhead High School in Glasgow said: 

“We’re very grateful to take part in this amazing competition and have our suggestion for the wonderful city of Glasgow listened to by the civil engineering industry.  

“We really enjoyed the weekly challenges and had so much fun filming our project. – we hope our hard work and effort can make a truly positive impact and that this will open up opportunities for us and others in the future.  

“We would like to say a special thanks to our ICE STEM Ambassador Mhairi Porteous from Fairhurst who mentored us through the process.” 

Other students who participated echoed the themes of wanting to help their communities and make a difference. 

“I really enjoyed researching projects that would aid my community as I felt like I was making a big difference in the world.”  (A Year 12 student)

“Working collaboratively as a team to research, think of ideas and design the project. Also making the video and talking to the bursar about potential sites. I also loved how the project came together.” (A Year 12 student)

Seán Harris, director of membership, the ICE said: 

“Although enrolment in civil engineering courses remains strong, the ICE still has an important role to play in allowing young people to see that a career in engineering is within their grasp – we need more young people to bring their ideas and passion to the wider industry.  

“We established the ICE CityZen Award as a virtual alternative to work experience, and it is fantastic to see participants’ interest in the industry growing as a result of their involvement.” 

CityZen participants are the future of civil engineering  

The ICE CityZen Award is a two-part competition aimed at 16- to 18-year-olds in full time education. Part one is a digital game in which student tackle real-life inspired civil engineering challenges. They then apply the lessons they’ve learned in part two and create a video submission to pitch an idea to improve their local community. 

The winners of this year’s ICE CityZen Award have responded directly to infrastructure problems in the headlines, namely improving public transport and tackling the high cost of energy bills. 

Hillhead High School in Glasgow won the Gold Award with their plan to improve connectivity between central Glasgow and the city suburbs with a tram line. Their proposed route would connect Glasgow Central Station, various entertainment hot spots, the Queen Elizabeth hospitals and Barehead Shopping centre.

Silver Award winners from Mayfield School in East Sussex suggested a geothermal heating solution for their village, which would help lower heating bills for residents and local businesses in the long term. The team was inspired to tackle the cost of energy because a beloved local café had to shut its doors after nine years due to rising costs. 

Bronze Award winners from Norwich School in Norwich, also tackled public transport woes in their proposal to introduce trolleybuses to the city, which they believe will help address traffic congestion and environmental concerns from diesel pollution. 

Seán Harris said: 

“It was amazing to review these submissions from young people all over the UK. The judges were impressed not only by the students’ creativity, but also by how well their proposals responded to the challenges faced by their communities.” 

“This is how civil engineers think and address problems. If this is the future of the civil engineering profession, we’re in good hands. Congratulations to all the winners and to every student that took part in the ICE CityZen Award this year. We look forward to seeing what you accomplish in the future.” 

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