Diversity is key to post-Brexit prosperity

/q/u/b/62_Paul_Jackson_Hig_Res.jpgThe Paul Jackson column

Only by embracing difference and recognising the positive impact of diversity can we maintain the level of skills we will need to prosper outside the EU, says EngineeringUK’s chief executive.

In the wake of the EU referendum there have many calls for unity and collaboration as the UK moves forward. I am concerned about the impact Brexit will have on our universities, about how we will secure the broad range of skills we need to maintain our vibrant and productive industry and about the economic impact of a departure from the EU. This isn’t the time to just wait and see, we simply can’t allow ourselves that luxury.

If we are to achieve unity rather than just talk about it we must embrace difference and recognise the positive impact of diversity. That is the case nationally and is also absolutely true of the engineering industry, whose workforce falls considerably short of being representative.

“The diversity and inclusion agenda is not about box ticking, it’s about real change”

This was highlighted at a recent meeting with the Employer Network for Equality and Inclusion. The diversity and inclusion agenda is not about box ticking, it’s about real change. During last November’s Tomorrow’s Engineers Week we saw that, rather than inspiring them, online images of engineering were actually putting young people off, particularly girls. That still needs to change. A starting point is to use role models with whom young people can identify. If you know a technician or engineer who could inspire a young person into engineering we’d be happy to work with them, from building a case study from their story to giving them the chance to talk directly to a school group.

As a member of the judging panel for The Engineer’s Collaborate to Innovate awards I’m looking forward to reviewing the entries, particularly those which showcase the positive results of business working with education. Never underestimate what can be achieved through collaboration. We were thrilled to have volunteers from Babcock, BAE Systems, Doosan, Highways, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, National Instruments, Rolls-Royce and the RAF supporting the Tomorrow’s Engineers EEP Robotics Challenge recently. Their expertise and enthusiasm were a real boon for the students involved.

The winners of the National Robotics Challenge, from Hall Park Academy
The winners of the Tomorrow’s Engineers EEP Robotics Challenge, from Hall Park Academy in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire

The Challenge, which is supported by the Helsington Foundation, saw 100 teams from across the UK design, build and programme LEGO robots for a series of space-themed missions. We specifically aimed to have an equal gender mix and drive participation of students from a diverse range of backgrounds. It involved schools that otherwise may not have worked on such projects and had some unexpected results. One team included an elective mute who has broken their silence as a result of great teamwork. Another saw autistic team members forge new friendships in the group.

The winning team came from Hall Park Academy in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire. At the prize-giving 12 year old Hannah said ‘We can’t believe we’ve won, we never get any academic achievements at our school. It feels incredible!’ That unfamiliar sense of achievement is one to cherish and if the legacy is simply the knowledge that team work can lead to success, I don’t think we can be too disappointed.

That collaborative effort, where each individual contributes something different, can be seen as microcosm of what’s happening within Tomorrow’s Engineers. The success of the programme, which aims to reach 1 million school children a year, is reliant on the contribution of engineers, employers, institutions and educationalists coming together to form a sum greater than the individual parts. I hope you’ll be a part of that unified approach.