Article - Issue 81, December 2019

This is Spectacular

Scott Steedman CBE FREng

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In under two years, teenagers have notched up more than 36 million views of the short This is Engineering films. This digital marketing campaign (thisisengineering.org.uk) is a spectacular success by any measure, an exemplar of what the profession can achieve when it works together to communicate a single message, that engineering can be a rewarding, future-shaping career that can change the world. Changing the public perception of what it is to be an engineer has been an ambition, and an uphill struggle, for many years – now it is starting to happen. 

Dr Scott Steedman FREng

Scott Steedman CBE FREng

The films showcase young engineers talking about what they do across a vast range of careers: fashion, film, sport, space, environment, health, helping people and even ‘big things’, to list just a few of the subjects covered. They are inspiring. 

Ingenia flagged up the launch of This is Engineering in 2018 (Ingenia, Issue 74). On 6 November the campaign stepped up a gear to become the driving force behind the first This is Engineering Day. It was a day to celebrate what engineers do for the world: the media loved it. Working with EngineeringUK and other professional engineering institutions, the Academy achieved remarkable coverage in the press and social media, including interviews on the BBC and tweets from astronaut Tim Peake (1.6 million followers) and Academy Honorary Fellow Lewis Hamilton (13.4 million followers).

The biggest change this year was the backing of household names from Amazon and Ocado to the BBC and Facebook, which all depend on engineers to make their businesses work, in addition to the corporate partners who have made the campaign possible since its inception. Over 136 organisations have pledged to present to the public more representative images of engineers and engineering and for the rest of us, there is an excellent free-to-use library with over 700 images available for download (flickr.com/thisisengineering). 

Behind the razzmatazz there is a growing sense of urgency. EngineeringUK has calculated that the UK faces a shortfall of tens of thousands of engineers each year. Only 12% of professional engineers are female and just 9% are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. With engineers from all backgrounds in such demand, choosing an engineering degree, vocational course or career path should be very attractive, but moving the needle is much easier to say than to deliver. Having landed the brand with the media, companies, universities and teenagers, it is time to link it into the great issues of the day, to focus on the outcomes that engineers and engineering produce. 

There are many important issues of the day where engineering is crucial, but one stands out as a candidate to connect much more to engineering through the campaign. Respected globally, talked about constantly, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are increasingly visible in corporate literature, in the media, in conversations with the next generation, everywhere. There are 17 goals, covering challenges including zero hunger (goal 2), affordable and clean energy (goal 7) and industry, innovation and infrastructure (goal 9). All of the SDGs will require engineers and engineering. This will be a global journey, but one where UK engineers could and should take a leading role. 

We know that young people are increasingly aware of, and interested, in the challenges of the future, especially climate change. Some have even taken to the streets to show that they want to do something to protect their own futures. What better way to encourage them to deliver impact than to choose a career in engineering? 
We have caught their attention with an excellent marketing campaign, but what next? We need to show our audience where engineering could take them. Within a few years, the SDGs will become woven into the fabric of organisations and government action around the globe. There is a huge opportunity for the Academy and its partners in This is Engineering to set out the connection between engineers, engineering and the SDGs. Whether it is responsible consumption and production (goal 12) or climate action (goal 13) that the next generation is interested in, This is Engineering could play its part. ‘Want to help shape the future?’ shouts the banner on the website. This is Engineering has proven that it can hit the headlines. Now let’s see it take off.


Scott Steedman CBE FREng
Editor-in-Chief
 

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