How Your Life aims to boost both engineering and equality

The Paul Jackson blog

EngineeringUK Chief Executive, Paul Jackson explains how the government’s latest campaign is about more than gender equality, and how his organisation is working to meet its pledges.

Earlier this month, the Chancellor launched Your Life, a campaign that promotes greater participation in physics and maths and aims to change how women and girls in particular are encouraged to consider engineering careers and the subject choices or vocational pathways that lead to them. As part of this campaign, EngineeringUK – along with more than 170 other signatories – pledged to work in partnership with educators, industry and government to boost female participation in technology and engineering.

This acknowledgement of the importance of physics and maths skills as drivers in the global economy is very welcome, and EngineeringUK – along with other professional bodies – has been working with Government departments to help shape tangible actions and real, measurable goals.

The “Your Life” campaign consists of a three-pronged approach to change: a communications campaign, promoting physics and maths A-level with emphasis on girls aged 14-16; the establishment of Maths and Physics “Chairs” – postgraduates recruited to bring their subject expertise into schools; and the “Call to Action” pledges by those from across the sector to increase the numbers of women in engineering. The campaign complements the work of EngineeringUK and partner organisations to engage more young people in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) – and we are working closely with the DfE, which is leading on the campaign from Government – to ensure our activities dovetail.

The campaign has some ambitious aspirations attached to it. Together with the pledges made by the STEM community, the aim is to increase the number of boys and girls taking physics A-level by 50% in three years. Such positive change comes with its own challenges, of course. If we are to accommodate and benefit from an increased uptake of maths and physics at A-level, we must press for further capacity in engineering education post-18.

For our part, EngineeringUK continues to develop and grow active channels of engagement. Together with the Royal Academy of Engineering, we have been leading on the delivery of the Tomorrow’s Engineers programme, working with 11-14 year olds in schools across the UK, since 2010. A partnership across the profession, the Tomorrow’s Engineers programme has grown to include the activities of several of the larger professional engineering institutions, with the ICE, IET and IMechE all represented on the Programme Board. However, if we are to make a change on the national scale that’s needed, we have to reach even more young people. That’s why, building on feedback from hundreds of employers, Tomorrow’s Engineers plans to facilitate a national programme of engineering employer engagement in schools by joining up other networks and initiatives at a regional level; coordinating activity to improve reach and impact; and sharing best practice.

During the school summer term this year, we are running a pilot of this approach in the North East and South East, where a Tomorrow’s Engineers Regional Partnership Manager will work with employers and schools, building on existing schools engagement activity and learning from each how activity can be best coordinated to meet their needs.

We are planning Tomorrow’s Engineers Week for November, working in partnership with businesses, educators and Call to Action signatories.  The Week will take place from 3 – 7 November and will provide the focus for a wide range of activities at a local level and include a national media campaign. Providing a hook for the engineering community to promote its activity, we aim to highlight the diversity, opportunity and reward on offer from a career in engineering, with a focus on engaging with 11-14 year olds.

It’s vital we understand how we’re doing in our collective aim to inspire the next generation of engineers. We monitor hard measures of the pipeline of tomorrow’s engineers, such as the numbers of young people taking GCSEs and A Levels in physics and the numbers going into an engineering apprenticeship or to an engineering degree. And we measure and track the impact of our collaborative efforts on the perceptions of young people, their parents and influencers through the annual Engineering Brand Monitor – we expect the 2014 results in July.

The UK needs more engineers, and the high profile campaign launch and commitments it contains are a great indication that the Government is taking seriously the role of STEM in securing the future of engineering and of our economy. The Tomorrow’s Engineers programme focuses on engaging with employers and coordinating activity in schools to inspire young people and create the next generation of engineers and if you would like to play a part in that, get in touch.