STEM Matters: Was 2018 the Year of Engineering?…

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

01 February 2019

Engineering - take a closer look

Hopefully, you already know that the Year of Engineering was a government campaign in 2018 that aimed to widen the pool of young people considering engineering as a career.

This column was originally featured in the February 2019 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy.

Working with industry, education and institution partners, the campaign focused on showcasing and celebrating the contribution that engineering makes to today’s world by developing and promoting inspiring experiences of modern engineering throughout 2018. A key goal of the initiative was to raise awareness and increase understanding amongst young people and their families of what engineers actually do. So, how did it do?...

Back at the beginning of 2018, Dr Hayaatun Sillem, CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering, called the Year of Engineering “an unprecedented opportunity to bring about a step change both in perceptions of engineering, and the attractiveness of engineering careers to people from all backgrounds”. While the first part of her statement may be the core objective and focus of the campaign, I was particuarly pleased to see Dr Sillem – the RAE’s first female CEO and a champion of greater diversity in the sector herself – highlight the second part. Encouraging greater diversity in the profession will be vital to addressing the shortfall in STEM recruitment – as well as to broadening the collective perspectives of the sector.

Nusrat Ghani MP, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Transport, and minister for the Year of Engineering 2018 recently talked to The Engineer, reflecting on the successes of the campaign and considering how the momentum generated can be carried into 2019. With so many other industry campaigns, initiatives and organisations already focused on addressing the STEM skills gap, I was pleased to see her recognise that “when government launched the Year of Engineering, we always knew that we were not beginning with a blank sheet of paper – far from it. The industry has long been alive to the challenges and opportunities of transforming perceptions of engineering”.

She acknowledged that “impressive and far-reaching work has been done to involve teachers and parents, and behind the scenes a wealth of research and engagement has put tackling the skills gap firmly at the top of the agenda”. “Against this backdrop”, Ms Ghani continued, “the Year of Engineering was always about building on and uniting this work. It was about joining forces across industry, and bringing new partners on board who could help us reach more young people, from more diverse backgrounds”.

That said, the additional focus has been welcomed and embraced by industry and professional institutions. “In 2018, we worked with more than 1,400 partners to deliver more than one million direct experiences of engineering,” Ms Ghani claimed, “and we are seeing a tangible and positive shift in perceptions of engineering careers and engineering stereotypes among young people”.

Describing the breadth of support received, Ms Ghani cited museums opening pioneering new exhibitions and galleries (such as the Science Museum’s Engineer Your Future exhibit), tech companies like Apple and Facebook inviting young people behind the scenes to meet their engineers for the first time, and Siemens training teachers to deliver powerful lessons that smash gender stereotypes. Associated campaigns like the RAE’s This is Engineering and Tomorrow’s Engineers Week (including its record-breaking Big Assembly which saw ~50,000 students, connected by live video stream, take part in the SAME school assembly) also helped challenge young people’s perceptions of what it means to  be an engineer.

“We’ve worked with footballers, astronauts and dancers to show children the exciting places engineering could take them. YouTubers and bloggers have inspired parents to nurture their kids’ creativity and curiosity at home. Through competitions, challenges and projects, partners like LEGO Education, the Royal Navy and Primary Engineer have helped young people discover the enormous impact engineers have on the world around us. And we have shared myth-busting stories of engineers from all backgrounds and every corner of the UK.”

Recognising the work still to do, Ms Ghani said: “the true success of the campaign lies in the relationships forged, and the potential these bring for a lasting and meaningful legacy”. She hailed the connections built between schools and local employers, as well as the big names from the worlds of technology, entertainment and sport that have joined forces with the STEM community to help transform perceptions. And crucially, she confirmed that the campaign would continue into 2019 – rebranding as “Engineering: Take a closer look”.


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