Nusrat Ghani MP reflects on the successes of the year of engineering and looks at how the momentum generated by the campaign can be carried into 2019
Last January I became the first female Muslim minister to speak at the House of Commons dispatch box. I hope this inspired other young women from minority backgrounds to aim high in careers where they might not currently feel represented.
Since then I’ve had the honour of leading a campaign that has strived to show young people from different backgrounds what they could achieve in engineering. The Year of Engineering has united the ambitions of the industry as a whole, making an impact that none of us could have imagined at the start of the year.
As the campaign began, Royal Academy of Engineering CEO Hayaatun Sillem – herself a champion of greater diversity in the sector – wrote of the Year of Engineering in this publication as “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”.
Twelve months on, and following a year that has seen government work more closely than ever with the professional institutions and the industry as a whole, we are beginning to see that change come about.
In 2018, we worked with more than 1,400 partners to deliver more than one million direct experiences of engineering – and we are seeing a tangible and positive shift in perceptions of engineering careers and engineering stereotypes among young people.
Research carried out following the first six months of the campaign shows that the percentage of seven to 11-year-olds who would consider a career in engineering has risen by 36 per cent. Among girls this age we have seen a 56 per cent rise in the percentage who would consider engineering careers.
This is heartening news and testament to the commitment of an industry determined to show young people all it has to offer. Yet we all know there is a huge amount more to achieve – and for me, the true success of the campaign lies in the relationships forged, and the potential these bring for a lasting and meaningful legacy.
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. 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, 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.
I’ve been blown away by the breadth of support the campaign has received. Museums have opened pioneering new exhibitions and galleries. Apple and Facebook have invited young people behind the scenes to meet their engineers for the first time, and Siemens has trained teachers to deliver powerful lessons that smash gender stereotypes.
Campaigns like This is Engineering and Tomorrow’s Engineers Week have challenged 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.
Engineers design the infrastructure and technology we all use on a daily basis. They will be at the forefront of the grand challenges that the Government’s Industrial Strategy is committed to tackling – from developing clean growth to helping people stay healthy and independent for longer. So it is crucial that young people with different experiences, unique viewpoints and diverse skills are part of shaping a future that works for everyone.
That’s why the breadth of support built throughout the Year of Engineering is so fundamental, and why it brings real promise for what comes next. Connections made between schools and local employers could mean work experience and mentoring opportunities for years to come. Big names from the worlds of technology, entertainment and sport have joined forces with the STEM community for the first time on activities that could transform perceptions of engineering long into the future.
We are working across the industry and with Government to ensure these relationships can continue to grow. And as with the launch of the Year of Engineering, we won’t be starting with a blank page.
The partnerships that underpin the campaign are helping us open young people’s eyes to the amazing things they could achieve as engineers, and I hope that the past year is just the beginning. n
Nusrat Ghani MP is parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Transport, and minister for the Year of Engineering 2018