The changing face of STEM engagement

The events of 2020 have had a profound impact on how we engage with the next generation of engineers, but there are reasons to be hopeful that 2021 will be different, writes Engineering UK chief executive Dr Hilary Leevers 

As we draw to the end of 2020, it is hard not to be reflective. I am grateful and inspired by how we have come together to support one another and shown enormous creativity and agility in our progress. But this positivity is darkened by the reality of the challenges that permeated our lives as, against the chronic backdrop of the climate crisis, came the shocking onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Children have had to deal with their education and career plans being disrupted, parents have become home-schoolers, educators have had to adapt how they teach. This year has extracted a huge personal toll on many and societal inequalities have been accentuated and more visible than ever.

Businesses big and small have had to adjust whilst struggling to provide job security, pay wages and make difficult decisions. Many areas of engineering and their workforces have struggled and, whilst most are recovering, some are yet to pick up. Nevertheless, engineers have played a huge role in maintaining our infrastructure and utilities over lockdown and have been on the frontline of medical delivery and innovation, working alongside the healthcare professionals who we have so much to thank for.

At EngineeringUK our ambition is ‘’to inform and inspire young people and grow the number and diversity of tomorrow’s engineers’’. Our ambition cannot be achieved by the work of any single organisation. It will take the collective effort of organisations and individuals with the shared interest in ensuring that all young people have the motivation, understanding and opportunities to reach a rewarding career in engineering.

Over the past six months, we’ve launched many new initiatives enabling us to work with partners to deliver our shared ambition.

In July 2020, we revamped the Big Bang Fair, which we’d cancelled in March, into the ‘Big Bang Digital 2020 – science, engineering and Covid-19’. In mid-July, nearly 30,000 viewers learned about the contribution of scientists, healthcare professionals, engineers, technicians and students in responding to Covid-19 and there have been over 18,000 views of the Big Bang Digital since then. Most of the young people surveyed said they would be likely to attend another so we’re currently planning for next year and will be reaching out for content and volunteers from across the sector.

The promise of a vaccine raises hopes that 2021 will see a return of face to face STEM engagement. Image: stock.adobe.com

Neon was launched in September; it’s a new platform that brings together the UK’s best engineering experiences and inspiring careers resources to help STEM teachers bring their subject to life with real-world examples. It aims to make life easier for teachers by curating high quality experiences that have clear learning outcomes, are engaging and inclusive, support careers education and highlight real-world applications of engineering. We are constantly updating this content so please get in touch if you have anything that you would like to be included.

More recently, we celebrated the launch of the Tomorrow’s Engineers Code, which is a commitment to work together to increase the diversity and number of young people entering engineering careers. Signatories make four pledges about their approach to funding, designing, delivering and learning from engineering-inspiration activities (including STEM programmes dedicated to inspiring young people into engineering). We’ve also just launched the Tomorrow’s Engineers website – a collection of resources and guidance to help Code Signatories and anyone wanting to improve their engineering engagement. Over 100 organisations have signed the Code so far and we would welcome many more…

Finally, we have refreshed our research programme to be more responsive and capture rapid change in the engineering sector and young people’s career aspirations. This included important research that helped us understand the importance of making sure that young people know that engineering will address their growing concerns for jobs that are secure, available and positively benefit society.

In spite of the challenges we have faced in 2020, it seems that all the people and organisations who care about promoting careers and diversity in engineering have never been so committed and aligned. The promise of a vaccine has cast an optimistic light on the new year and I greatly look forward to working with you in 2021 to ensure that we bring the richness of engineering to as many young people as we can – and especially to those whose voices we have not heard enough – creating a much brighter future for them and us too.