You may not have noticed it yet, but teenagers all over the country hopefully have. Timed to coincide with the government’s Year of Engineering celebration (How engineering can take its place in the spotlight, Ingenia 73), the Royal Academy of Engineering has launched This is Engineering (TIE). This digital communications campaign sets out to rebrand engineering for the young and explain to them what engineers really do.
Dr Scott Steedman CBE FREng
Engineers constantly talk about the need to reach out to young people in a style that they will find appealing, but now it is actually happening. TIE is a sustained, national campaign aimed at 13 to 18 year olds, using social media to challenge young people to think about what engineering really means. As the Academy puts it, TIE wants to be brave and bold, “a digital campaign for a digital generation with a digital future”.
Heard it all before? This time it will not be the traditional ‘careers talk’, but an immersive experience that highlights what engineers achieve for society and how it is relevant to young people. TIE speaks to teenagers through channels that they themselves depend on. The Academy has invited industry and the wider profession to provide longlasting commitments and to build an enduring legacy for the campaign long after the Year of Engineering.
Could this succeed? After decades of trying to move the needle through science fairs and afterschool talks, TIE deserves to be a breakthrough. Robotics and automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence, 3D printing, mobile phones, medical imaging systems, advances in sports technology, gaming and driverless cars are all in the frame.
TIE uses bold advertising online and through social media to challenge cultural perceptions by presenting a new face of engineering. The message is that a career in engineering is exciting and varied, not to mention well rewarded.
The TIE website showcases young engineers’ experiences of their careers in sectors as diverse as fashion and space. It already has a collection of inspiring and exciting short films of young people describing their passion for engineering in a very different format to the conventional interview. They are all compelling: in the first three weeks of the campaign, the TIE videos received over 3.5 million views. To take just two, you should watch Pavlina the ‘light painter’ working in the fashion industry and Chris, the medical robotics ‘body rebuilder’.
TIE also links teenagers to the EngineeringUK programme Tomorrow’s Engineers for practical advice on how to get into engineering. This programme is designed for a school-age audience and tackles the challenge of delivering relevant, attractive careers information head-on by providing teenagers, parents and teachers (who also need to understand what engineering is really about) with the information they need in an appealing and relevant format. Under the Tomorrow’s Engineers banner, EngineeringUK supports employer engagement activity with schools, providing materials and engagement opportunities to schools across the country. TIE and Tomorrow’s Engineers are working together to develop school resources based on the TIE messaging.
With all this activity, the challenge will be to keep the content and messages dynamic, topical and enduring. Industry and technology companies are being encouraged by the Academy to step up their support and become partners for TIE, but to make a real difference, the whole profession needs to promote this initiative at every opportunity and at all levels, local and national.
The scale of the challenge bears repeating. EngineeringUK estimates that every year the UK experiences a shortfall of 20,000 new engineers and technicians. Filling this gap means significantly increasing the number of students and apprentices entering the industry. Input to the government in April 2017 from the 38 professional engineering institutions coordinated by the Academy (Engineering an economy that works for all) highlighted skills as a major risk to future economic growth. The government’s industrial strategy White Paper, published in December, acknowledged the scale of the crisis.
So let there be no more handwringing. It is time for action, not words. If you’re a teenager, try the links! What the UK needs is a commitment by engineers and their companies, large and small, wherever they are based, to get involved with this important and exciting campaign. TIE needs your support to find and attract the next generation of engineers. This time, let’s move the needle.
Dr Scott Steedman CBE FREng