Daniel Rossall Valentine: We can improve diversity in engineering

This is Engineering

  Daniel Rossall Valentine

Daniel Rossall Valentine (MA Systematic Theology, 2012) is Head of the Engineering Talent Project, Royal Academy of Engineering, and campaign lead for ‘This is Engineering’.

Technology is shaping how we live, work and interact with each other. Engineers are at the centre of this transformation and yet engineering has both a recruitment problem and an image problem. Many young people assume that engineering involves hard, manual work, and male-dominated workplaces. It is often seen as a narrow specialism that offers only a limited range of job opportunities.

This is Engineering

The UK has had too few young people going into engineering jobs for decades. This shortage of engineering and technical talent is a real tragedy in a country that has such a proud tradition of engineering achievement. Every year tens of thousands of young British people miss out on the opportunity of a great career in engineering.

Engineering also suffers from a lack of diversity with females making up just 11 per cent of UK engineers, and just 8 per cent of UK engineers coming from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds. Inspiring more girls and BME candidates to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) 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. This was the reason I was approached by The Royal Academy of Engineering and asked to help with this issue by creating a major perception-change campaign.

The challenge for the ‘This is Engineering’ campaign 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. Using an unscripted, documentary approach, the films I created with creative agency Bandstand bring to life engineering that the public rely on every day. Using real, young engineers they illustrate the engineering behind much of the sport, fashion and tech that young people enjoy, demonstrating that they can follow what they love into engineering, and in doing so make a positive impact on society.

Daniel with Bandstand

Daniel with the Bandstand team

In our first three seasons the campaign has introduced sixteen young engineers from a mix of backgrounds and who are engaged in a wide variety of engineering activities. It 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 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.

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 per cent of teens said they would consider a career in engineering before the campaign launched, that figure rose to 72 per cent among those who saw campaign films. Importantly, that difference was greatest among underrepresented groups.

The remarkable performance of the campaign demonstrates the underlying appeal of engineering when it is attractively and authentically packaged. 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 rehumanising 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. They show how we can 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. I hope the engineering community can build on our success to keep broadening the appeal of engineering, bringing a more diverse workforce into the profession.

Keep up to date with the fourth season of the campaign by following @thisiseng on Twitter. For further information and to find out how to get involved with the ‘This is Engineering’ campaign, connect with Daniel on LinkedIn.

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