5-minute briefing: EngineeringUK

Aug 29, 2019

Dr Hilary Leevers

Dr Hilary Leevers has been in post as Chief Executive of EngineeringUK since January 2019. We caught up with her to find out more about her and her vision for the organisation.

Can you tell us what your role involves?

I'm leading EngineeringUK in its mission to bring more young people into engineering and from more diverse backgrounds. I’ve been in post for about six months and it's a great organisation to be part of.

Something that is special about EngineeringUK, and we are privileged in this respect, is the way we are funded from the members of the Professional Engineering Institutions and through our Corporate Members and other supporters. This enables us to think about what we need to achieve across the sector as a whole and it means we have a responsibility as well as a role to play in driving that collective good. 

I’m also excited by how there are many ways in which we can make a difference: from research to policy; directly through our programmes like The Big Bang or through supporting others to run their programmes; through better analysis and building greater collaboration. 

Why do you think the strategic objectives are the right strategic objectives for EUK?

We know it's essential to increase the number and the diversity of young people moving into engineering - we need them for our future industry, for economic reasons and to meet the global challenges we face around sustainable and safe access to water, energy and food in the UK and around the world.

Engineers are such a critical workforce and we don't just need to make sure that we have enough people coming into those roles, we want to have the best. That means being able to draw from as wide a talent pool as possible and include a range of people bringing in different insights, expertise, perspectives and backgrounds creating a more innovative workforce.

We can only do this by working with our partners from across the sector including the Royal Academy of Engineering, and those in the STEM education landscape like STEM Learning and the Careers Enterprise Company.

It’s also important that we test ourselves on what sort of activities enable us to achieve our objectives, underpinning our activities with research to understand what the sector’s needs are, how different people move along pathways into engineering and build knowledge of the different ways in which we can have impact towards our shared goals.

What’s your vision for EngineeringUK – where would you like to see us in the next 6 months to a year?

Our priorities right now are really to tighten up our understanding of the impact of the work we are doing or supporting others to deliver. We need to dig down deeper to see which groups those activities particularly resonate with and which young people we might need to work harder with or try things differently. With that in mind, we are reviewing how we evaluate and ask questions in a more challenging way of ourselves. Over the coming years that means we will start to iterate and change our programming to make sure we are being as effective as we can be in meeting our mission.  

How does your previous experience help you in your role at EngineeringUK?

I completed a PhD and was a research scientist for many years and bring that culture of critique, evidence and challenge to the role. I was lucky enough to take six years out while I had my children and then had a really interesting transition back into the workplace. I did an Open University returners’ course which was fascinating. It was also when I started to learn about issues around diversity, workforce needs and challenges. The course was very influential on me as I never would have considered the switch from research to policy otherwise.    

I then had a period working for Campaign for Science and Engineering, which was a policy-focused organisation and also allowed me to build up familiarity with the engineering sector. Prior to joining EngineeringUK, I was at the Wellcome Trust in a role where I had my first experience of directly delivering activities and funding. So I feel like I’m drawing on all aspects of my former roles in this new one. I’m also drawing upon a family of many engineers.     

What are you most proud of from your first 6 months as CEO?

It’s perhaps not as you intended the question, but I’m most proud of the organisation – I think the organisation is fantastic and am excited by the opportunity to take it to the next level, working with partners and building on our excellent delivery and research to increase and evidence the impacts we are having.   

How do you interpret EngineeringUK’s values?

I see our powerful values reflected in all the work we do – we are passionate collectively but every colleague I’ve met is also passionate about their work and how much they believe in what we are trying to achieve.

To be insightful, I see as being thoughtful, learning from what we are doing and learning from others. I also believe we have a duty to share our insights with others, for instance, through our research findings and publications. 

To be inclusive, is about diversity and also the power of collaboration. Everything we do is in partnership with others and we are entirely dependent on the goodwill and generosity of others - I hope they find those qualities in partnering with us because there’s no way that any single organisation can get the engineering sector to where it needs to be unless we join forces.

I was reminded by our fourth value, to be courageous, when I met with some original trustees who reminisced about the first Big Bang and whether it was going to be successful or not. To be bold in our thinking and approach is critical.    

If you had to choose one thing, what has been your highlight since joining EngineeringUK?

Being part of the team that delivered The Big Bang Fair was a huge highlight for me. I have to say, when I took the job I didn’t realise everyone in the organisation would be up there on the ground doing whatever they can to help. It was an amazing team spirit and it was quite a remarkable event. We talk about The Fair inspiring young people but in many ways, it inspired me - seeing so many organisations working with the spirit of collaboration towards growing the talent pool by being generous with their time and by sharing their learning.

I was also inspired by the many Competition entries and quite humbled – not sure I would have made the finals if I had entered at their age!        

What are you looking forward to in the year ahead?

We recently agreed a new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategy with much helpful input from the Board and others. I’m really looking forward to bringing in a new person to help lead that programme of work and bring together the work we have already been doing, with internal and external expertise, to really start making a quantifiable difference for young people from diverse backgrounds on engineering pathways.  


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