Companies across the globe are struggling to find the right engineering talent. In the UK, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the industry are working to promote engineering careers by showing that behind every YouTube designer or heart surgeon, there are cool engineers creating the necessary tools.
It might be easy enough to find engineering talent if your logo says Google, Spotify or Facebook. In the UK market, huge and well-known international manufacturing companies such as Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Jaguar still have a lineup of eager applicants.
“Where we see a critical shortage is particularly in smaller companies,” says Rhys Morgan, Director of Engineering and Education at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London. “Even in attractive companies there will be a shortage due to an aging workforce, and in growing sectors like aerospace and automotive we still need engineers and technicians that support the skilled engineers.”
The Royal Academy of Engineering, in cooperation with major engineering organizations and with funding from the industry, has initiated a social media campaign called “This is Engineering,” targeting young people aged 13 to 18.
“Other industries, like the fashion business, have been very good at promoting themselves to young people,” says Morgan, who is in charge of the campaign. “Architecture, law and finance have also been good at branding themselves, but engineering has been very slow to follow.”
To attract young people, he says, it is essential to understand their aspirations and attitudes toward life — such as an interest in flexible working, opportunities to travel and making a difference.
“The campaign is about getting them to recognize the importance of engineering for, among other things, solving some of the world’s future challenges,” Morgan says. “It might be in terms of building sustainable cities with electric cars, addressing water shortages or improving communication across the world. Kids interested in helping people often say they want to become a doctor, but most advances in medicine in recent years are actually all about engineering, like MRI scans, ultrasound or hip implants.”
The “This is Engineering” campaign started in January 2018 and has attracted more than 20 million views, making it an unparalleled social media campaign to promote engineering specifically to teenagers in the UK. Short YouTube videos introduce viewers to engineers like Josh, who calculates the best way to get casualties out of collapsed buildings; Chris, who makes wearable robots and prosthetic limbs; and Sonya, a visual effects artist who creates special effects in blockbuster movies.
“The UK has among the lowest proportion of female engineers in Europe, only 12 percent, and we are working hard to address that issue as well,” Morgan says, adding that getting more female students is critical to filling the skills shortage. “Engineering companies work to serve people, communities and societies. If their workforce doesn’t properly reflect societies, those services and products will not be as inclusive as they could be.”
Companies will also miss out on a diversity of thinking around the product solutions.
“That goes for different ethnic minority groups and people from different strata of society as well,” he says. “If you have a very homogenous white middle-class engineering workforce, which we largely do in engineering in the UK, then you miss out on many potential business opportunities and ways to serve society.”
The speedy developments in artificial intelligence mean that a lack of diversity is a concern.
“That’s a very live issue in the UK,” he says. “How do we make sure that there aren’t just white male engineers programming their unconscious bias into the algorithms they are creating? And again, a more diverse workforce will help to negate that.”
It’s too early to see the long-term effect of “This is Engineering.” “Through our own surveys we can see that young people who have seen the campaign are considering engineering as a career choice,” Morgan says. “So we see green shoots of optimism and hope the tide is turning. But it will be a while before we see the impact on the profession. It’s like an oil tanker — it takes a very long time to turn.”
A passion for engineering
Anne Russo, Program Manager within Trelleborg Sealing Solutions in Albany, New York, US, is passionate about advocating for women and girls in science, technology, engineering and math. She has been a member of the Society of Women Engineers for the past 15 years.
What made you choose a career within engineering?
As a child, I always loved math — my parents got me to eat my peas at dinner by asking me to count the number in each spoonful I ate! I also loved building with K’NEX or Erector sets and doing science experiments. In high school, I particularly enjoyed chemistry and calculus classes. My mom saw that I loved problem solving, and encouraged me to pursue engineering.
What would you say to a high school girl who hesitates if she should go for a career in engineering?
My advice to high school kids considering engineering is to talk to as many different engineering professionals that you can and ask a lot of questions. There are many different types of engineering, and one may fit your interests more than another. Look for opportunities to job shadow, so that you can see a day in the life of an engineer. Engineering is a fulfilling career since it enables you to make an impact in your community and the world.
What is best with your job?
My favorite part of my job as an engineer at Trelleborg Sealing Solutions is that many of the products we make are custom or prototypes. Since each project is unique, there is always a new problem to solve. I enjoy seeing the whole process: from engineering design to manufacturing to testing and validation of a product.
Trelleborg’s employer branding strategy is about promoting how employees shape the industry from the inside through new, groundbreaking, customer-focused solutions. Properly used, Trelleborg’s in-depth competence in polymers is an essential tool to drive global innovation and to have an impact on society, customers and local communities.
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