Engineers play a key role in society, influencing some of the world’s most impressive – and life-changing – innovations. From electricity and highways to digital electronics and health care equipment, engineers have made a huge impact on every aspect of modern life. As the world continues to evolve, engineers will play an increasingly important part in developing solutions to tomorrow’s challenges – and the world needs more of these skilled workers.

According to the 2018 Talent Shortage Survey conducted by the ManpowerGroup, engineers rank among the hardest roles to fill. In fact, 82 percent of industries struggle to fill engineering positions, as opposed to 32 percent of positions overall.

As an engineer early in my career at Rolls-Royce, it’s not just a statistic – it’s something I see every day. Since I play a role in pioneering the next innovations of flight, I struggle to imagine how someone wouldn’t find this career path fascinating and rewarding, yet many students don’t even know it’s an option for them. As we prepare for the workforce of tomorrow and the shifting demands of industries, we must ensure students have the opportunity early in their education to explore a broad array of career options and develop skills that will be critical in those careers.

Studies show students make decisions about whether they are good at math or science at an early age. If a student doesn’t believe they’re good at something, they are highly unlikely to pursue that subject area as a career. But how students experience subjects can make a serious difference in their estimation of their interest and abilities, a make-or-break in career trajectories. To address the engineer shortage, we must address the problem from a young age.

From early in life, I had a deep curiosity about the world that my family encouraged. Knowing engineering could be my future career, I transferred to a high school that offered PLTW Engineering so I could develop the skills to pursue that path. The courses helped me understand what a future in engineering looked like, gave me the experience of solving real-world problems, and helped me develop technical skills and those I would need in the workplace, like group collaboration.

But to truly connect students to a future career, it goes beyond just hands-on coursework; businesses must also play an active role in bringing opportunities to life. Rolls-Royce is a major sponsor of FIRST Robotics in the Indianapolis area, which is how I first learned about opportunities at Rolls-Royce before I’d even left high school. When I interviewed with Rolls-Royce after my freshman year of college, I had the familiarity and skills to already be confident that I had chosen the correct career path.

My career path doesn’t have to be unique. By bridging the gap between the skills learned in the classroom and the realities of the workforce, businesses can ensure students have the exposure, skills, confidence, and opportunity to succeed in their careers. To solve the engineering shortage, it’s a critical piece of the puzzle that must start now.

Cameron Crenshaw is a turbine design engineer at Rolls-Royce and a Project Lead The Way alumnus. This article is part of a series with education nonprofit Project Lead The Way that explores Indiana’s Future-Ready Workforce. For more information, click here.