The Engineering Education Supply Line

Address to ATSE Symposium on Engineering Education: Can a crisis be avoided? August 2023

This is a copy of the address given by John Phillips, an AustSTEM Foundation Director, to the above Symposium in its Solutions Session. It dealt with the problem of engineering invisibility and included the following recommendations.

STEM Education
• Engage with school curriculum development.
• Unpack Engineering from Technology.
• Put the E firmly back in STEM.

Industry Outreach
• Identify engineering as a brand.
• Create a company to market the brand.
• Deliver the message through STEM.
• Promote the message through STEM Ambassadors.


Technology Teacher Shortage

A 2019 survey of over 3000 Technologies teachers by the Design and Technologies Teachers Association (DATTA) revealed that 96% of schools were experiencing difficulties recruiting Technologies teachers; and that 84% of schools were using teachers from a variety of other learning areas to teach Technologies.

There is also evidence that schools have stopped offering a range of Stage 5 and 6 Technology subjects as they have not been able to staff them effectively. Anecdotally, the situation in 2023 is worse than predicted in the 2019 survey.

No matter how much money and effort is expended on teacher support programmes, they will not succeed if there are no teachers to support!


Download the 2019 DATTA Technologies Teacher Survey

Engineering Invisibility

A recent survey by Engineers Australia revealed that girls were not contemplating a career in engineering because they did not know what engineering is, or what engineers do.

The relative invisibility of engineering in early curricula years is not confined to Australia. Survey data gathered by the UK’s Institute of Mechanical Engineers as part of their the STEM Ambassador training revealed that 79% of 11–14-year-olds;  69% of parents ; and 42% of teachers don’t know what an Engineer does.

If a student is not formally introduced to engineering concepts by the end of mandated subject learning in Year 8 then, unless they choose engineering-based electives in the remainder of their secondary education, they may never know what engineering is or what engineers do.


Why is Engineering virtually invisible in the Middle School Years? Download this Engineering Education History briefing paper to find out.

Additional Barriers
  • Many Technologies curriculum outcomes in the middle school (Years 5-8) can (and should) be identified and named as Engineering outcomes – but they are not. You can’t be what you can’t see!
  • Opportunities for pre-service teachers (i.e., those studying at university for a degree in education) to study Technology or Engineering specialisation are few and diminishing.
  • For elective engineering courses in later years, including the prerequisites for university engineering entrance, if schools cannot find a suitably qualified teacher, they are simply not offering them. Once these subjects are lost from the curriculum, they are difficult to reinstate.
  • By being slow to embrace change, and a tendency to focus mainly on the implementation of the vocational aspects of the learning area in most schools, Technologies is no longer highly valued in education. This is, of course, the opposite of how it is viewed by business and industry.
  • The standard of technology and engineering education that is offered in many schools has not kept up with the rapid pace of technological change, the curriculum, or with learning theory.

Download this “Barriers in the Engineering Education Pipeline” paper which provides context, background, opinion, and the consequences if these barriers are not addressed. Examples of useful domestic support programmes aimed at lowering them are also discussed

Potential Solutions

This paper “Overcoming Australian education pipeline barriers to the supply of domestically educated engineers” presents potential solutions to overcoming the barriers to the supply of engineers within Australia’s education pipeline, along with examples of successful efforts from overseas.

Various strategies are explored to improve engineering education at different stages of the pipeline with an emphasis on the late primary/early secondary years. These are the years where students firm up in their own minds the most appropriate education pathways to achieve their goals in life, and where they work out what they would like to do.

Drawing lessons from successful overseas initiatives, the paper highlights the UK’s STEM Ambassador program and recommends the establishment in Australia of a similar programme to recruit STEM Ambassadors.

Additional Briefing Papers