Information access is crucial for creating and supporting engineers

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Access to engineering information is crucial for creating the engineers of tomorrow and supporting the ones of today, write Stephanie Fernandes and Tim Hamer of the IET 

The chief executive of the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET), Nigel Fine, recently gave evidence to the UK's House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into engineering skills. In his speech, he highlighted that there is still not enough public awareness of engineering and the career opportunities it offers young people. It is this continued lack of understanding that contributes to the quota of engineering jobs left unfulfilled every year, he argued.

When you look more closely at the ‘skills in engineering’ issue, it is clear that the challenge the industry faces is multifaceted. First and foremost we have the challenge of attracting young people to the industry; second is the issue of finding engineering graduates jobs once they are qualified; and third is the problem of ensuring there is the opportunity for career progression once engineers are qualified and in work. As with any industry, engineers must feel there is support over their entire career, not just at the start of it.

This third issue is one of the main areas we are concentrating on addressing at the moment. The IET and other membership bodies are constantly striving to provide essential intelligence to engineers around the world. It is this knowledge that helps drive the industry forward, allowing them to innovate and develop new technologies.

Part of this is ensuring that as many people as possible are able to access such intelligence. Open access is one way of providing unrestricted access to peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles. This more open approach to academic content will help fuel innovation and ensure that those training and making their way in an engineering career are able to access and use the most forward-thinking, industry-changing intelligence. Academics can reach a bigger audience for their research and it can have a more immediate impact, while readers can gain quick access to knowledge and expertise they previously may not have been able to afford. The benefits to engineers are considerable, including expanding their knowledge and ultimately boosting their careers.

To gauge the appetite for open access, we recently conducted some market research, culminating in a global survey of over 35,000 engineering researchers from academia and industry. We believe open access has great potential as a way of expanding the reach of the world’s leading engineering intelligence. The aim here was to test whether researchers agreed.

The results were very positive, with around a third of engineering researchers stating they had already been published in an open-access journal, while 87 per cent said they would continue to submit articles to a journal if it converted to an open-access model. Based on this feedback, we felt confident that the engineering ‘market’ was ready for an open-access element to be added to the IET’s journals. In doing this, it helps spread research and intelligence to people who may not previously have been able to access it through subscription. This is often people who are already working in engineering and are looking to learn from the world’s leading researchers in order to develop their own skills and move their careers upwards.

A career in engineering is increasingly becoming a more attractive path for young people, and with governments beginning to show an increased backing of science subjects we can start to close the skills gap. The need to continually support engineers from the very start to the end of their careers is an essential part to the process and, by combining resources and effort, together we can support the already considerable progress made to date.

Stephanie Fernandes is principal policy advisor for education and innovation and Tim Hamer is director of knowledge at The Institution of Engineering and Technology