The Paul Jackson column
The chief executive of Engineering UK looks forward to National Women in Engineering Day, which coincides with the EU referendum and the Big Bang West Midlands event
We have a busy day coming up next week: 23 June. As in the past couple of years it marks National Women in Engineering Day, which gives the industry the opportunity to celebrate great female engineers past and present and to encourage more young women to consider an engineering career. That’s part of what Tomorrow’s Engineers does all year around, not with anything specifically targeted at girls, but by creating a context and environment in which young people can picture their future selves. We want to address the gender balance within the industry and look to do that by supporting companies to deliver inclusive schools outreach, work experience and recruitment.
While this month sees a focus on women for which WES should be congratulated, strategies and policies to attract a more diverse workforce need to be more inclusive overall. As an industry we are making some inroads but there is still much to do. Diversity shouldn’t be a shorthand for gender balance. Yes, we want to see more female engineers but more importantly we want young people whatever their gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background to know that, with the right skills, the industry is open to them.
There are several ways to achieve that. Positive role models that young people can relate to are key, which is why we’re always on the look-out for inspiring stories from technicians and engineers. The opportunity to see engineering in action is another, so a strategic approach to schools engagement and an inclusive work experience policy are really important for diversity. Tomorrow’s Engineers can support on both counts.
Of course, the EU referendum is the day’s main event. Many of the major organisations have expressed a view, as a corporate and/or through polling membership. I’m not sure that we have previously seen a coordination of Government, EEF, CBI, IOD, IET, Unite the Union and corporates like Airbus and Siemens expressing a strong view that remaining in the EU is the best choice. That’s quite a coordination.
In another coordinated effort The Big Bang West Midlands also takes place that day, bringing together businesses and education. One of several regional fairs taking place in the summer term, the event will give 3,000 local school children the chance to see classroom learning brought to life and to speak to STEM professionals about their jobs. But it’s not just the professionals that are sharing their experience; there will be some fantastic projects competing for a place at the finals of The Big Bang Competition (previously the National Science and Engineering Competition).
There will also be fierce competition in the form of LEGO space missions as teams compete in the national final of the Tomorrow’s Engineers EEP Robotics Challenge. In its first year the challenge has seen 100 student teams introduced to real-world engineering as they worked together to build and program LEGO robots to take on a series of missions developed with NASA. Not only does the final crown the champion but it gives other would-be engineers the chance to see what they could be doing.
23 June will be an important day in shaping the future of the UK and, I hope, in shaping the aspirations of many future engineers.