5-minute briefing: EngineeringUK 2020

Jan 31, 2020

We spoke to our Chief Executive Hilary Leevers about her highlights in the year since she joined, the organisation's priorities for 2020 and much more.

The New Year also marks your one-year EUK anniversary. What was the high point of your first year?

There were many things that built across the year, but my high point would have to be The Big Bang Fair. It was the first Fair I have been to in my role at EngineeringUK and seeing how it worked behind the scenes was amazing. I was surprised by how many young people took the time to engage with activities in the career zone and that was a great learning point for me.

The whole organisation goes up to support the Fair and there is a sense of real collective endeavour across the teams. That collective spirit extends to all the organisations at The Fair - there because they firmly believe in inspiring the next generation in STEM. It was energising to see how deeply committed these organisations are - they truly saw it as an opportunity, and almost a responsibility, to inspire the next generation. It's not a recruitment exercise for them. It's something much, much bigger than that - a real greater good effort.

And the greatest challenge?

It was a challenge that I knew I would have - the complexity of the sector. There are so many different organisations working in engineering and in engineering engagement. For some, it is essential to their work and for others, it is a small part of what they do. Understanding that landscape and the interactions across all these organisations is essential for us to achieve our mission - and it's complex. I am still learning and I'm enjoying learning, but it is also a challenge.

For you, what is the core purpose of EngineeringUK?

It is absolutely to increase the number and diversity of young people choosing engineering - to do that through our own efforts, but also through galvanizing and supporting other organisations who share that goal.

Looking forward, what are the key strands of EUK’s strategy in 2020?

It's a really exciting year for us because something that's been a little while coming will reach fruition - delivery of a digital platform to help teachers find STEM and engineering engagement activities more effectively and to encourage them to plan multiple experiences for their students. We know that it is needed, both as a delivery mechanism and to encourage those repeated encounters. It's something we've been working on for some time and we now have a prototype that's being tested and that will be fully delivered by the new school year.

We’ve also got a packed research agenda this year. We will be publishing the next Engineering UK: The state of engineering report. For the first time, we will be releasing our data and analyses in modules, rather than having a single large report. We also have several other research projects underway, focused on impact and evaluation.

We'll also be pushing forward with our approach to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and our new Head of EDI has just started. We're already improving the demographic information we collect for participants on our programmes and are evaluating ourselves more robustly so that we can test how well our activities resonate with different groups of young people. We are keen to collate work in this area and share best practice we have developed alongside that of our members and partners. We will also be taking a more experimental approach to changing our programmes to see how we can get them working better for the groups we most want to reach.

Of course, this all runs alongside the core delivery of our programmes, The Big Bang and Tomorrow’s Engineers Energy Quest and the Robotics Challenge.

How will we work with our members to make a difference in 2020?

We really value working with our corporate members. They are incredibly important in giving us credibility and helping to shape our work. They also directly support us. We learn a lot from them and we hope that we support them in their work to achieve our shared mission around the future engineering workforce.

Over the course of 2020, we will also be developing our work more widely with employers with those that might be working more locally or small to medium enterprises that might not want to become a corporate member. We can still support them when they're thinking about their engineering outreach and engagement.

What are you most looking forward to implementing in 2020?

So many things! One thing I think will be really enabling for us, and I hope for the wider sector, is the work we have started around an impact framework. We are working with the New Philanthropy Capital to deepen our understanding of the journeys that young people go on and the decisions that they make that can result in choosing an engineering career. We want to understand what enables or might deter them, so that we can be more systematic in how we target interventions to change young people’s outcomes.

It is something we're developing with input from across the community. We will use it to help us test the impact of our programmes, but I very much hope it will be a powerful tool for anyone involved in engineering or STEM advocacy.

What do you foresee as the biggest challenge for 2020?

Well, there is a large external event occurring in 2020. Given we will be carrying out our latest data analysis and reporting on the sector, having a better handle on how we will respond to leaving the EU will be very important. We must think about the sectoral impact, what the consequent skills needs may be and how we respond to those, from a research, policy and an engagement perspective.

Over the past year, have there been any surprising research outcomes? How has EUK research informed programmes and policy?

We're always getting new information and information will change over time. Our 2019 Engineering Brand Monitor had some important findings. One of the findings that was not what I anticipated was the importance of salary in young people's career aspirations and career planning, for boys and girls alike. This is an important piece of knowledge for us as we plan careers information and resources – particularly because we also know that young people tend to underestimate the salaries and opportunities associated with engineering. It’s a concrete example of how our research findings inform our programmes.

Some of EUK’s core funding comes through professional registration, how important is this?

It is a real privilege to receive this funding. It gives us relative long-term security which enables us to do things that other charitable organisations may struggle with. We can plan projects for the longer term, we can take risks and we can be experimental. It also means we can and should do things on behalf of the engineering community - the digital platform I mentioned earlier is an example of this. With community knowledge and input, we have been able to invest considerably in building a platform that is intended to benefit many.

This funding stream brings responsibility with it, to make sure that we use the opportunity well. We seek to hold ourselves to account to deliver national level impact.

That said, the support that we get from particular funders, sponsors and our members, is also hugely valued. It enables us to do deliver and grow our activities and achieve the reach that we do working with about a quarter of a million young people each year.

The year 2020 sounded so futuristic – and now it’s here! How did you think the world might look in 2020? Has engineering made any of the visions a reality?

When I imagined the future, most of the things that I thought of were technological innovations that would absolutely be driven by advances in engineering and I thought there would be more large-scale, visible innovations. One that springs to mind is wind farms. Compared with 20 years ago, these are now very visible and making an incredibly important contribution to a greener future. I thought there would be more things like that, whereas many of the bigger changes have been on an individual technological level. These are happening incredibly fast, think smart phones, tablets, the way in which we're using data - huge changes on a smaller, yet much more pervasive scale. I think I had the balance wrong!  

On a non-technological level, I thought we would be a more balanced society in terms of gender and other demographic groups. I was the only girl in my Sixth Form taking double maths and physics and I genuinely thought in 10 years that wouldn’t happen. Yet it is still often the case. We are making progress, but it's much slower than I thought it would be. Looking forward, I have to hope the pace of change increases and that different demographic groups in society are better represented across all areas of life, including engineering.

What do you think will impact the sector and engineers most over the coming decade?

I feel that we are positively positioned in terms of national, and particularly political, recognition of the importance of STEM, engineering and industry for the country's future, both for economic growth and for responding to the national and international challenges. This comes with powerful commitments about investment in Research & Development which need to be complimented by a strong skills strategy.

More widely, the imperative has to be responding to the Sustainable Development Goals - this will be a decade where that is front of mind. There are so many things coming together to this end including the UK’s hosting of the 2020 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26). It's so important that engineering is recognised by the public, and young people in particular, as part of the solutions - we need to deliver on that. We need to make sure that young people can see how choosing engineering gives them the opportunity for positive impact.

I also think there'll be huge change, opportunities and challenges, aligned with Artificial Intelligence and big data over the coming decade.

Lastly, I think the sector is much more focused and serious about improving diversity, recognising the benefits that it can bring and, and beyond that, the need for inclusivity. It isn't just having a diverse workforce, it's really making sure that everyone is included and able to bring the benefits of perspectives. If we could achieve a step change in sectoral diversity over the next 10 years it could have amazing impact.

Do you have a professional (or otherwise!) new year’s resolution?

For me, it is making sure that I deploy my time thoughtfully, professionally and personally. This includes a balance for enjoyment. I enjoy my job and trying to make sure that others are enjoying the workplace is very important. Ultimately, working out how to use my time effectively, and keeping enjoyment in that, means I can sustain the energy needed to drive our goals forward.

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