A new framework to increase the diversity and number of engineers

There are many routes into engineering and it can be difficult for young people to understand the different options available to them, writes Dr Hilary Leevers, CEO of Engineering UK.

Some people enter the profession by taking traditional qualifications, others may pursue a work placement, or an apprenticeship. The unhelpful stereotype that engineering is just for men from privileged backgrounds with outstanding academic achievements is infuriatingly persistent, whereas engineers actually come from all walks of life, with varying academic accomplishments and positions in both technical and non-technical jobs.

So, who should be responsible for disrupting stereotypes and ensuring that young people are aware of the engineering choices available and how to access them? Schools, parents and carers have a responsibility to their children, but employers, government and the engineering profession must help ensure equitable access to opportunity and that we have the engineering workforce needed.

Driving a new era of collaboration in engineering skills outreach

One of the new initiatives intended to help the engineering community be more impactful in its work with young people is The Tomorrow’s Engineers Code. The Code is a framework for organisations hoping to increase the number and diversity of young people pursuing engineering careers. Co-created by and for the engineering community, The Code asks signatories to commit to improving the quality, inclusivity, targeting and reach of activities designed to inspire young people and to build and share understanding of how to do so.

routes into engineering
The image of software engineers hidden in the basement is a stale stereotype (Image: Renishaw)

I am delighted to say that EngineeringUK was invited to develop and deliver The Code. It was launched on 15 October via a virtual event with hundreds of guests and a wide-ranging and really insightful panel. We discussed how The Code will kick start a new era of collaboration and explored some of the sector’s most challenging issues in relation to diversity. The panellists shared their personal insights and experiences and highlighted areas of improvement.

Software Engineer, Allanah Green who is completing a degree apprenticeship at BT noted how difficult it was to find information on routes into engineering when she was exploring her career options. It’s important that we create information that can be easily found, understood and shared whether that is in schools, at careers fairs or online. Equally once a young person starts their career, they need to feel supported and empowered to grow. A lot of employers have development programmes but it’s crucial that they have a proactive approach to investing in their talent from the start of their career and beyond.

Design Coordinator, Georgia Thompson who works for Bam Nuttall shared how she saw a lack of female role models from diverse backgrounds when she embarked on her career. Volunteer programmes and STEM ambassadors can play a vital role in going into schools and showing young people that they can have a career in engineering by talking about their jobs and what they do on a day to day basis. Tomorrow’s Engineers Week is another great way to provide inspiring and exciting opportunities for young people to experience the world of engineering. This year it takes place from 2-6 November, schools, engineers and employers can get involved online and via social media. Showing the many faces and voices of engineers as well as what they do is one of the most effective ways to promote diversity in the community. I encourage companies as well as individual professionals to support the Week and tell their engineering story.

Once a young person starts their career, they need to feel supported

There was also widespread agreement that we must use the research on diversity to make better informed decisions on how to provide the right engineering initiatives across different groups and in the regions that need them the most. It can be that engineering outreach activities are concentrated in certain areas or presented in a way that does not appeal to those under-represented in engineering, such as young women, those from certain ethnic minority groups and people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds or with disabilities.

For many years we have all recognised the need for a step change in our collective impact. 2020 has really brought this need home. As the resources available for engineering engagement have tightened over the last 6 months, we must make sure that we are getting more from what we do. And this year, young people are more concerned about their future than ever, and some of those historically under-represented in engineering have also been the hardest hit by the pandemic.

The Code is intended to help us make fundamental changes to ensure engineering careers are more accessible for this generation of young people. Nearly 80 organisations have already signed up including: 26 businesses, 24 engagement organisations, 8 government departments and 8 engineering institutions. Any organisation with UK operations that fund, design or deliver engineering-inspiration activities can apply to become a signatory of The Code.

Please visit the website, to catch up on the launch event if you missed it, review the pledges with colleagues, reach out to us if you have any questions, and join as a signatory!