Challenging and changing the image of engineering

3 min read

Engineers have chosen a career that is growing in importance, but the profession has a recruitment and image problem that campaigns like This is Engineering have sought to rectify, says Daniel Rossall-Valentine, Head of Engineering Talent Project, RAEng

Engineers should feel optimistic, they have chosen a career that is growing in visibility. Our society relies on them today more than ever, and engineering is critical to so many of the issues challenging policy makers and business leaders across all sectors.

Technology is shaping how we live, work and interact with each other, but we often barely notice it unless it malfunctions. Technology has infiltrated almost every part of our lives, and engineers are the central actors in this story of innovation. They design, build and improve technology and have become central to national productivity, economic growth and living standards. Engineers are the people who turn scientific knowledge into practical application, social benefit and economic value.

And yet engineering has both a recruitment problem and an image problem. The public perception of engineering is a long way from the reality. Many young people assume that engineering involves hard, manual work, and male-dominated workplaces. Too many young people also believe that engineering is a narrow specialism that offers only a limited range of job opportunities. The problem is particularly acute with female students. Inspiring more girls to pursue STEM subjects and careers will not only help us to address the skills gap in science and technology, but it will also help us to create a more diverse workforce that truly represents the world we live in.

The public perception of engineering is a long way from the reality

To address these twin challenges of recruitment and perception, the Royal Academy of Engineering, along with a number of the UK’s leading technology companies and leading universities developed the This is Engineering campaign during 2017. The goal was to create a more visible, more powerful, and more unifying message than anything done before, and provide content that all engineering organisations can use to attract the next generation of talent. The core marketing challenge was to find a simple message that would present an accurate picture of what is a very complex profession, and to appeal to a broad range of young people including those not currently interested in STEM. Thanks to the film-making expertise of our creative team at bandstand, we were able to solve this riddle and design a style of film that was high on both impact and authenticity, and which could convey a powerful message within 40 seconds.

The campaign launched in January 2018. In our first three seasons we introduced sixteen young engineers, who were from a mix of backgrounds and who were engaged in a wide variety of engineering activities. The campaign presents young people with clear and concrete images of what engineering is and the role that young people can play in engineering’s future. The campaign bypasses the complexity of engineering in order to simply inspire young people to ‘follow what they love into engineering’ and to see engineering as an opportunity to make a real contribution and shape society’s future. The films also highlight the teamwork that technology and engineering projects rely on, and the creativity that is required at every stage in the design and build process.

image problem

The campaign has been remarkably successful. In the eighteen months since launch, the films have been viewed over 35 million times, and have rapidly changed perceptions amongst the 13-18 target audience. Whereas 39% of teens said they would consider a career in engineering before the campaign launched, after the first year that figure had risen to 72% among those who had seen the campaign. Importantly, the change in consideration has been greater among underrepresented groups.

The remarkable performance of the campaign demonstrates the underlying appeal of engineering when it is attractively and authentically packaged. Engineering is a complex product, but our campaign provides the clear packaging that allows the natural benefits of engineering to stand out on the shop shelf of the career marketplace. We know from our research that our films and images need to visualise the human elements of engineering; of which there are at least three: the engineer as a person (their personality and passions), the social element of engineering processes (for instance teamwork and contact with clients) and the social value of engineering outputs (i.e. user and wider societal benefit).  Our films pioneered this “rehumanisation” of engineering and technology and have caught the attention of a wide range of young people; not just those who are “tech-obsessives” but also a wider group of people who are interested in the benefits that technology brings as much as the technology-per-se. Our films also bridge the educational divide between arts and sciences, by demonstrating the design and craft elements of engineering, in addition to the role of science and maths.

In September we will be unveiling new content, and announcing the next big moment in the campaign, which will provide engineers and engineering organisations with an opportunity to get involved. To make sure you don’t miss the news, follow us on twitter:  @thisiseng and look out for an update in The Engineer.

Daniel Rossall Valentine is the Head of Engineering Talent Project, Royal Academy of Engineering and campaign lead for “This is Engineering”. Daniel is also a mentor on the Advance Programme for “Women in Transport” and an Ambassador for Great Ormond Street Hospital.