It has been estimated that the industry needs more than 200,000 skilled recruits each year for the next five years, but there’s a big shortfall of young people embarking on the path.
According to research, a third of parents do not know what engineers do. So, as perceptions about future career choices are often formed at an early age, it’s vitally important that engineers work to build awareness among the younger generations – and soon.
That was the aim of the Year of Engineering, which set out to educate and inspire 7- to 16-year-olds with hundreds of events across the country, throughout 2018. The initiative enjoyed backing from the government and more than 1,400 partners – but, looking back, what will be its lasting legacy? Has it put the engineering industry on the path to a brighter future?
“The Year of Engineering has united the ambitions of the engineering industry as a whole, making an impact that none of us could have imagined at the start of the year,” says Nusrat Ghani, the government’s minister for the Year of Engineering.
“Throughout 2018 government worked with more than 1,400 partners to deliver more than one million direct experiences of engineering, from tech giants like Apple and Facebook to astronauts, footballers, dancers and Marvel superheroes – and we are seeing a tangible and positive shift in perceptions of engineering careers and engineering stereotypes among young people.”
Peter Finegold, the IMechE’s head of education, was thrilled to see the impact of government involvement. “The Year of Engineering showed how having visible government backing for engineering made it easier for employers, STEM providers, educational and professional organisations to join forces and march under the same banner – something engineering desperately needs,” he says.
The Institution was involved in the campaign right from the start, including making contributions to the branding and messaging, and the idea that the focus should be on people rather than technology. It also worked with the Department for Transport and PR agency 23red to develop a STEP evaluation tool. “The Holy Grail for engineering engagement with young people is to find a way of measuring what works,” says Finegold. “Though introduced quite late on in the year, our hope is that the tool will form part of the continuing legacy and ultimately improve outreach experience.”
So did the campaign make a difference? “It may be too soon to tell but the indicators are encouraging,” says Finegold. Across the year, more than one million young people enjoyed experiences of engineering. Six months in, research carried out by the EngineeringUK Brand Monitor found that the number of 7- to 11-year-olds who would consider a career in engineering increased by 36%, and the number of 11- to 16-year-olds who would do the same rose by 9%.
There was a particularly strong impact on girls – which is significant because only 12% of people working in engineering are women. The percentage of girls aged 7-11 who would consider an engineering career more than doubled to 53%.
“The legacy, however, could well lie in the less ‘photogenic’ aspects of the Year of Engineering,” says Finegold. “These would include the adoption and use of an agreed standard impact evaluation tool, establishing a code of practice to ensure that all funders sign up to a shared vision, offering support where it’s needed rather than for PR benefits.”
Spirit of cooperation
Another lasting impact of the year could be in the renewed links between disparate parts of the engineering industry. Ghani says: “The partnerships that underpin the campaign have been fundamental in showing young people from all backgrounds what they could achieve as engineers, and will be at the heart of our work to continue transforming perceptions of the industry in 2019 and beyond.”
Finegold agrees. “The spirit of cooperation and partnership generated throughout 2018, together with the independence that government involvement has brought, should ensure that the ripples from the Year of Engineering will be felt for some time to come,” he says.
Lego and superheroes – highlights of the year of engineering
The year kicked off with a letter from industrialists that appeared in The Daily Telegraph: “Engineering giants pledge to attract more diverse staff”. The 17 signatories of the letter included executives from Crossrail, BP, Shell, BAE Systems, Network Rail and Rolls-Royce.
The launch of an online schools hub provided teachers for the first time with a single resource for finding engineering lesson ideas, continuing professional development, and links to local businesses, engineering ambassadors and work experience opportunities.
Technology giant Apple threw its weight behind the campaign – and later in 2018 it launched Year of Engineering field trips which gave more than 1,700 students from schools across the UK the chance to meet the creatives behind its innovative engineering technology and to take part in robotics and coding activities.
Popular family attraction KidZania launched its Year of Engineering festival in London’s Westfield shopping centre. The festival included workshops and activities from Year of Engineering partners, plus an interactive engineering treasure hunt for visitors. Campaign activity at KidZania reached more than 11,000 young people.
Lego launched Engineers of the Future, which aimed to give more young people the chance to meet their engineering role models and take part in activities. The programme included a competition, the chance for young people to present their own inventions to MPs at parliament, and a roadshow that brought engineering ambassadors and activities to 1,500 young people in schools that hadn’t previously taken part in STEM outreach events.
The IMechE’s Formula Student competition dedicated a day to STEM education, and hosted 150 young people from schools in the Silverstone area.
Usborne published a children’s book to support the campaign, encouraging young people to take a closer look at the engineering all around us. Lift the Flap Engineering showed children the amazing engineering behind everything from bicycles and mobile apps to hospital equipment and special effects.
Facebook pledged its support for the campaign following a commitment to invest in UK engineering talent. This included giving more than 100 schoolchildren the chance to go behind the scenes with Facebook engineers at the company’s London HQ, sharing inspiring stories from engineers at careers events and on social media, and launching a mentorship scheme to help more young people embark on engineering careers in the technology sector.
The Year of Engineering teamed up with Marvel to launch the More Heroes Needed online aptitude test which aims to demonstrate to children that they have an abundance of talents that would suit a career in engineering. The test matches the youngsters to different Marvel characters and shows how these superheroes share many of the same traits as engineers, supported by videos of real-life engineers.
Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily reflect the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.