Jul 14, 2022
By Susi Farnworth, Head of Internal Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)
Engineering is such a fulfilling career, but we know that there are some groups of people who are under-represented in the engineering workforce. For example, women are heavily under-represented in engineering and technology (16.5% of those working in engineering are female, compared to 48% of the working age population). Black and Asian engineering graduates are far less likely to go into an engineering career than white engineering graduates (37% of Black engineering graduates are employed in an Engineering occupation 6 months after graduation, compared to 41% of Asian engineering graduates and 60% of White engineering graduates). Disabled people are also under-represented in the engineering workforce (11% of people working in engineering occupations are disabled, compared to 15% of people working in other industries).
To ensure that all young people get the opportunity to engage with quality engineering inspiration activities, targeting is likely to be key. With EngineeringUK programmes, we have found that an ‘open door’ policy of offering our programmes to all schools without any targeting, invariably led to schools engaging who had lower numbers of pupils from under-represented groups. Without identifying the groups you want to work with or having a process in place for targeting, you run the risk of engaging with the already engaged.
Events like Tomorrow’s Engineers Live are crucial for the engineering outreach community because they provide them with the opportunity to discuss challenges, share insight and collaborate to ensure we are as inclusive as possible when producing engagement activity for young people.
A step in the right direction
EngineeringUK developed a set of EDI Criteria to identify schools with higher proportions of young people eligible for free school meals, from ethnic minority backgrounds and living in rural areas, and with special educational needs and disabilities. We adapted our approach to schools that met our EDI criteria, sending targeted promotions and offering them bursaries to support participation. In some cases, we reserved a proportion of spaces for these schools or aimed to exclusively offer places to these schools.
All programmes were set KPIs related to the EDI criteria and were required to reach at least 50% girls. Single sex girls’ schools who have above average proportions of pupils eligible for free school meals or above average proportions of students from ethnic minority backgrounds meet the EDI Criteria. This is a lower threshold than other mainstream schools in order to prioritise participation from girls.
This approach clearly worked – it increased the proportion of EDI criteria schools who engaged and importantly increased the proportion of young people from ethnic minority backgrounds and lower socioeconomic groups.
People can only be what they can see - if a young person doesn’t see any examples of engineers who look and act like them, then they won’t see it as a viable career choice. We include relatable role-models from a range of backgrounds and experiences, and these can be seen on the Neon platform. When doing this, it’s worth showing diversity in its widest sense: gender, family background (for example showcasing that the engineer’s parents did not have professional jobs or were not engineers), ethnicity, ability, disability and neurodiversity.
As a young person, hearing an engineer talking about their background and identifying with that experience may be as important as a visual impression. Showing examples of engineers from a range of backgrounds at all levels of seniority, not just at entry level, will encourage all young people to see that there is likely to be a career path for them. We also try to showcase people who come into the profession through a range of career paths, including apprenticeships and transferring from different sectors.
We know that particular types of content may be more or less engaging for certain under-represented groups. For example, EngineeringUK’s briefing on young people and Covid-19 suggests that girls are more interested in working in healthcare compared to boys.
Making the content accessible is key. Where possible, make communication clear and straight forward by using plain English. In all of EngineeringUK’s programmes, we aim to consider the needs of those with communication difficulties (including those with autistic spectrum disorders), and in the majority of cases we provide BSL and subtitles for Deaf people and voiceover for those with visual impairments.
Building on young people’s self-confidence
We know that some groups, such as young women, have lower confidence that they can pursue an engineering career (58.7% of girls believe they could become an engineer, compared to 76.4% of boys), so messaging and communication that aims to build that confidence can be particularly important in encouraging under-represented groups into the profession.
Many young people from under-represented groups have little knowledge about what being an engineer really means, because they are less likely to be from a family or community where engineers are present. This means that we should work on the basis that this is their first experience of engineering and grab that opportunity to inspire them and showcase the wide range of careers that are available to them in the engineering sector.
Key messages about the engineering sector
EngineeringUK go by some key messages which we believe are important in attracting young people from under-represented groups:
- engineering careers are for everyone
- engineering careers offer good salaries, job security and a contribution to society
- engineering employers really want diversity in their workforce
- engineering is not just for those who are academically high achieving