In the world of education and training, stereotypes can create negative perceptions around particular lines of study or work. The Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) fields are rife with stereotypes that can dissuade young people from taking an interest in these industries, even though these jobs are becoming increasingly essential.
With the rise of technology and automation, engineering careers are becoming more diverse and more applicable across a variety of industries. Therefore, simplistic and generalized views of who engineers are and what the engineering world entails are damaging to the perception of the industry — as well as being simply untrue.
One area that engineering has expanded into is the healthcare industry. Biomedical engineering is bridging the gap between these two fields, by using technology to create, maintain, repair, and operate essential medical equipment.
Kym Rykers, a board member at the Australasian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine in 2016, compiled a study named ‘The impact of diversity, bias and stereotype: expanding the Medical Physics and Engineering STEM workforce.’
She writes: “The demand for individuals with a science and maths based education is growing worldwide with predictions that over 20% of all future occupations will require at least a basic degree with a maths and science major. The diversity of jobs is increasing with new occupations also being created; with each year, there will be greater competition to persuade talented people to take up ACPSEM (Medical Physics and Engineering) supported careers.”
However, Rykers points out that some educators in the schooling sector are still too slow in reforming to prevent the phenomenon known as the ‘engineering spiral of death.’ This occurs when a student loses interest in engineering before high school and cannot recover the love for STEM - which potentially hurts their future employment prospects. Teachers have an immense challenge ahead of them as technology continually demands more and more fired up graduates who are ready to tackle the complex tasks that the future is presenting.
The situation is even more dire for women. Over the past decade, the industry has pushed to include more women in both entry and senior positions. Diversifying these traditionally male-dominated workplaces is one way of undoing age-old stereotypes that have characterized some industries. However, Rykers states that girls need to be included and encouraged to participate in the STEM fields from a much younger age.
“The reasons behind the low numbers of girls and women taking up careers based on science and maths is due to a host of factors which start impacting participation in primary school. Numbers drop further as women progress through to university and move into employment. This attrition means a significant cohort of talented women are lost to the science community, and it is a loss we can ill afford. To meet the continued need, it is imperative to address this loss.”
At the Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT), a number of our Course Coordinators and lecturers are female engineers. Our Deputy Dean Indumati V recently gave us her views on the issue of attracting early interest in the pre-schooling years of girls.
“Education is the foundation to a better society. Engineering is the field that is a pillar in providing economic, environmental, health, and security benefits to society. I am a strong advocate for girls and women in STEM,” she said.
“I am encouraged by being a mum of two young girls and a boy myself. It is important that girls are aware of any capabilities that they need to develop from a young age to nurture their interest in the field. I have run some successful initiatives and actively participate in events that promote girls in STEM.”
In order to keep moving forward and continue attracting people with a broad range of personality types, interests, and backgrounds into the STEM field, work still needs to be done. If, from a young age, all students are encouraged to feel positive about their prospective futures in engineering, many of the false generalizations will fall away. With how varied the engineering field is becoming, employment opportunities in the sector are still being established. There has never been a better time to study engineering.