7 ways to improve engineering outreach

Jun 29, 2022

by Tamzin Caffrey, Head of Communications, EngineeringUK

We want to reach more young people with positive messages about careers in engineering. Getting more professionals in the workforce will help address skills challenges, a more diverse workforce brings a wider range of perspectives and solutions and opening up the industry to a wider talent pool gives more young people the chance of a rewarding career.

Engineering outreach and individual engagements have a really positive effect on young people’s view of engineering generally and as something they might consider as a future career.

Here are 7 ways to improve engineering outreach and help inspire tomorrow’s engineers.

#1 Understand the challenge
EngineeringUK research shows that students who attend any STEM careers activity are 3.5 times more likely than those who don’t attend any to know about what people working in engineering do. This rises to 8 times more likely for those who attend 2 or more. So, what is the optimum number of engagements to drive awareness of engineering career opportunities? And how many should take place in primary compared to secondary school? Improving our collective understanding of how much engineering engagement activity and support is needed will help us give every young person the chance of an engineering career.

#2 Decide your impact
When designing engagement activities, be clear on what you’re trying to achieve and how you’ll measure success. Be realistic about what you want to achieve and think about the impact you want to make with individual activities and your overall programme. What is the change you want to achieve? Do your students have the capability, opportunity and motivation that would lead to that (behavioural) change – more on the COM-B model in the EngineeringUK Impact Framework for Engineering Outreach. Plan up front how you will evaluate your engagements. Moving away from vanity metrics (xx% had a fun time) to more meaningful measures (xx% say they know what to do to become an engineer) will give you a clearer view of the impact you’re having. You can find sample evaluation questions in the EngineeringUK Measures Bank.

#3 Spotlight modern engineering
Many young people need help understanding the range of roles in engineering. They might think about tech, about manufacturing, about medical advances, about music or special effects or streaming. They might think about e-scooters, green energy, recycling or floods and not realise that these are all engineering. We can help them see the engineering that is all around them, every day. Shining a light on modern engineering helps young people understand how engineers shape the world they live in. Whatever they’re interested in, engineering plays a part, which means they could have an engineering career in that industry.

#4 Smash stereotypes
Engineering has an image problem. We need to move away from engineering being viewed as ‘male, pale and stale’ and show young people that the people who work in engineering can be as diverse as the industry itself. Diversity isn’t just about gender, it’s about showing that engineering is for everyone. Help young people see engineers and technicians like them. Show them engineering professionals who look like them, who come from similar backgrounds, who have similar interests or face the same challenges. Encourage these professionals to share their story so young people can find relatable, inspiring role models and change the mental image they have when they think ‘engineer’.

#5 Be actively inclusive
We know that women, people from ethnic monitories, people with disabilities and those from low socio-economic backgrounds are underrepresented in engineering. That isn’t going to change without targeted action to engage with young people in those demographics. Actively targeting your programmes to groups underrepresented in engineering means you are reaching young people who are less likely to have an engineer in their social network, so you have the chance to positively influence their view of the industry. You also need to tailor your activities to ensure these young people are included and engaged and able to really get the most out of them.

#6 Work with others

No organisation, even with a massive budget, can do this on its own. If we are to have the impact the industry needs and our young people deserve, we need to communicate and work together. Collaboration and partnership working can increase reach and impact, creating more opportunities to inspire young people into engineering. Sometimes that’s about knowing which schools others are working with so you can focus efforts elsewhere, sometimes it’s about pooling resources to increase coverage or maybe it’s about sharing opportunities to inspire young people. Being open to working where you can add the most value can really make a difference.

#7 Listen, share and learn
Learn from others and don’t be shy about sharing what you find works well - and what doesn’t. We all want the same thing – more young people entering engineering careers – so sharing and learning from others is a no-brainer. It saves time and money (and heartache). And while it can be hard to share when things don’t go so well, those insights are so precious because they help others avoid similar pitfalls. Shared insight can make a real difference to future activity not just for you and your programme but for the whole community.

Tomorrow’s Engineers Live, a free conference and networking event for anyone who wants to make their engineering outreach activities more impactful, takes place on 11 July 2022. It will cover the key challenges of targeting and delivering to diverse groups and ensuring impactful engagement. It will look at showcasing modern engineering to young people as well as ways to work collaboratively to really make a difference.

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