Changing Perceptions: Opening People’s Eyes to Engineering (April 2014)

The ERA Foundation commissioned independent communications experts Luther Pendragon to advise on the issue of raising the profile of engineering and attracting the brightest and the best into the profession. Their report is published below under a Foreword from the Foundation’s chairman. Your response to the report would be welcome. Please email comments to


A healthy development in recent British life has been the renewed recognition that the balance of payments between the UK and the outside world retains its significance as a vital measure of national well-being. The consequence that manufacturing and the export of manufactured goods must continue to be central elements within the British economy has also been acknowledged; it is encouraging that measures for their promotion are increasingly seen as fitting and indeed major undertakings of Government.

The contribution of the engineering sector to the future strength and prosperity of the UK has accordingly been recognised to be crucial.  The health of this sector has, however, raised long-standing concern, particularly in respect to attaining the required levels of recruitment and to the establishment of mutually beneficial relations with the wider public and society. As with all such cultural issues, progress involves inevitable attention to complex, multi-variant, and frequently contentious questions.

These questions have received close attention within the engineering community for many decades.  In the UK, as in other countries, imaginative measures have been undertaken by the engineering profession; initiatives have proliferated as solutions have been sought.  The response has for the most part been modest.

In this context, a small group of like-minded colleagues has believed that benefit could result from taking a fresh viewpoint.  An outside opinion, reflecting an assessment from beyond the profession, could well bring new insight. Such a review has accordingly been sought. Undertaken by the communications consultancy, Luther Pendragon, and supported by the ERA Foundation as part of its continuing commitment to the effective engagement of engineering within British life, this report is now put forward for your attention.

The external research study has drawn the conclusion that the place of engineering within the wider UK culture does indeed involve misunderstandings on all sides.  Six specific areas of misconception are identified. These are set out with clarity in the report. 

As commonly encountered in such scrutiny, a plethora of problem areas has emerged, these either being in resonance with the set of issues already well recognised by the engineering profession or being newly identified by the external assessment. The report is accordingly presented for the close consideration of all interested parties.  The associated questions concern, first, the validity of the analysis presented, secondly, the urgency for the undertaking of corrective action, and, thirdly, the promise of the proposed communications campaign.  It would be particularly helpful to have your comments by 30th June 2014 (please address these to The responses will be directly considered in shaping the next stages in this endeavour.

Inevitably when confronted by an analysis of the present style, there is tendency to prioritise the problems and to set corrective measures in place accordingly.  This can induce a rather dark mood and can indeed compound the problems identified. There may be value, therefore, in noting even at this stage three aspects of the situation where strikingly positive conclusions can be drawn. 

The first is in fact explicitly stated in the report, namely, that the fragmentary character of the current multiplicity of initiatives offers a first exceptional opportunity where purposeful effort is deployed to achieve an agreed coordination between the many parties involved.  ‘Why simplify if complexity is working well’ runs the German phrase; but the present system is not working well.  A clear ambition is accordingly to achieve a framework for the initiatives; this can ensure, first, that they draw mutual benefit from one another and, secondly, that there is sufficient commonality in the message being conveyed for conflicting outcomes to be avoided.  

A second exceptional opportunity arises from the revolution in means of communication that is currently underway. This is not so much a matter of increased efficiencies, dramatic though these may be. It is more that technological changes have brought about a generational fissure in styles of communication. The initiatives of the last thirty years have fallen within a continuum of approach; those that are to be effective in the next five years will follow a radically different pattern. The ERA Foundation is working to offer examples to suggest the promise; a comprehensive campaign built on the revolution will, however, require the creative input of those fully nurtured within it. It would be an irony if the engineering community showed itself to be hesitant in seizing such an opportunity.

The third matter lies in the message itself.  It may be fair that ‘your country needs you’; such a viewpoint is after all at moments of philosophical reflection to be respected.  But recruitment to engineering need not rely on absence of self-interest in making its appeal.  ‘I want a well-paid job, I want to tackle fascinating problems where my part in finding the solution will be crucial, where I can travel among other cultures, where I can join with friends and colleagues in bringing about required changes, where, in short, I can develop into the person I wish to be.’ The third exceptional opportunity lies in ensuring that our offering and the resulting conversations resonate with the entirely reasonable aspirations of the young as they set about making their choice of career.

The report is offered for your consideration.

Richard Brook


The ERA Foundation 

Changing Perceptions:

Opening People’s Eyes to Engineering

 In October 2013 the ERA Foundation set independent communications consultancy Luther Pendragon the following task:

 “To create a high-level strategy to tackle the poor awareness, perception and understanding of engineering in the UK – with particular attention given to the challenge of attracting more young people into the profession.”

 The ERA Foundation commissioned us to conduct a review of existing initiatives, seeking the opinions of those from within and outside of the industry, including teachers, politicians, parents, opinion formers and individuals of all ages in order to produce a report that examined the issue as a communications challenge. The following pages outline our observations and recommendations.


Whilst conducting this research and preparing our report, we have received guidance, advice and information from a large number of individuals and organisations. The ERA Foundation, in particular David Clark and Richard Brook, has been a huge help both in putting us in touch with a range of interesting stakeholders and for encouraging us to be bold and honest in our appraisal of the subject.

A special thank you to every person we met over the course of our research, especially those teachers and young people who took time away from their busy schedules to share their thoughts with us.

Executive Summary

Tackle the poor awareness, understanding and perceptions of engineering in the UK and you will attract more young people to the profession. This is a statement few, if any, would disagree with. In spite of a lot of time, money, energy, and countless initiatives and activities undertaken by industry and its associated institutes and professional bodies, we continue to struggle to attract young people to study engineering, or indeed, to enter this most vital of professions.

So what is driving the shortage of engineers? Those within the industry speak about the subject with passion. They talk about the opportunities, intellectual challenges, innovation, creativity, team work and the satisfaction that comes from finding solutions to complex problems. And yet when those outside the profession talk about engineering, they use an entirely different and often uninspiring vocabulary. They speak of the profession as “difficult”, “restricted”, “technical”, “badly paid”, “dirty”, and “unglamorous”. It’s a stark contrast.

There are many reasons why young people are not currently interested in a career in engineering, and crucially, why their parents and teachers fail to endorse or make the case for joining the profession. Firstly, there is the perceived lack of ‘glamour’ and excitement in a career still relentlessly associated with hard hats and tool belts. It is an industry deemed inhospitable to women, and one in which there appears little space for creativity or innovation. Furthermore, it is an industry that lacks good visible role models, with many of those influencing young people serving only to reinforce these negative stereotypes. Poor levels of understanding of the profession and its skills, together with a failure to properly acknowledge the achievements of those within industry, not only contribute to the problem but do little to raise the status of engineers in society.

This is to touch on just a few of the many obstacles and factors contributing to the growing misperceptions surrounding engineering. A situation that is all the more astounding given that engineers are in essence the problem solvers of our society. The major challenges this country faces now and in the decades ahead will at least, in part, be solved by engineers. Without a strong engineering sector the country’s future looks bleak, a fact the Government has recently recognised.

Alongside the number of misperceptions about the industry there are some difficult truths that must also be acknowledged. Diversity within the sector is poor. The industry has failed to attract women and ethnic minorities in large numbers. Further, those who do begin a career in engineering often leave prematurely citing a “hostile environment” as the cause.

It is clear that the industry has much to do to ensure better working practices for all. Crucially, it should be open about this fact. It is better for companies to be honest and admit that there are issues, whilst demonstrating that they are working on change. Over-using the images of a small number of successful female engineers for every brochure or careers section of a website does not solve the problem – in fact, it exacerbates and over-compensates in a way that serves only to alarm prospective engineers.

What the industry really needs is for people to take a fresh look at engineering as a way of acquiring skills or entering a career path. In order to do this the industry needs a new arsenal of spokespeople and a new form of words. It needs to move away from the clip art of hard hats, rulers, cogs, engine parts and calculators that are used to illustrate so much of the industry literature and start talking in terms of problem solving, innovation, function and creativity.

The industry needs to dispel the myths and misperceptions and arm those who influence young people with the tools that they need to really excite and inspire. This work should call on people to look again and “open their eyes to engineering”

Whilst calling on people to take a fresh look at the industry and the skills that an education or training in engineering can provide, it is also time for the profession to view itself and its achievements differently.

A clear issue that emerged from our research is that the industry has a visibility problem (or should we say an invisibility problem?). When engineers create an innovative solution, develop a product, or complete a project, they do not sing from the rooftops, they merely quietly pride themselves on a job well done. The fact that the thing – whatever the thing is – works or functions in the intended way is enough to satisfy a true engineer. Whilst some would say that this lack of self-promotion is inherent in the individuals who enter the industry, it is clear that it has also become an unhelpful part of the profession’s culture. 

It may be that this natural humility is the reason why society appears to no longer consider or value the role that engineers play in their built surroundings, infrastructure, equipment, electronic devices, medicines, even clothing. Whether this is a directly causal link, it is clear that we need engineers to shake off their ‘behind the scenes’ identities and become ambassadors that talk proudly about the full range of work and sectors they are involved in.

This shift will drive conversation on the subject and create greater public interest in the industry and those involved in it. We need to rebuild the link between the engineers and their work, highlighting the role of engineering in much of today’s technology and many innovative solutions.  We need engineers to leave their professional ‘fingerprints’ behind. We want them to be proud to leave their mark. In this instance, we do not necessarily mean the literal depiction of fingerprints. Rather, this refers to a means of identification to show the role of engineers in a particular project or product.

Over the course of our work both researching and writing this report, we continued to ask ourselves one question:

Are the problems facing engineering issues of product or sale? That is, is there something wrong with the profession itself, or is the shortfall in engineers driven by a failure to communicate effectively about the sector?

The short answer is that whilst there are some issues with the product, it seems overwhelmingly that the recruitment gap and perception challenges would be resolved with better salesmanship. Put simply, the industry as a whole currently does a poor job in many areas of its communications. Improving how it communicates with prospective engineers and those who shape their decisions would have a direct impact on increasing the numbers entering the profession.

To be effective in changing people’s perceptions of engineering the industry needs all its constituent parts to pull together and coordinate efforts. There are far too many initiatives, taglines, and schemes, and not enough common accord. For the cultural shift required truly to make in-roads into addressing the shortfall of engineers, industry needs to agree to communicate one strong message on engineering, one that encourages people to open their eyes to the possibilities within the profession, raises the profile of the individuals and innovations within it, and speaks proudly of the contribution and impact engineers have on wider society.


In order to write this report we engaged in an extensive programme of qualitative research. Since November, we have met with and interviewed over 80 people from a range of backgrounds. We have been careful to balance our meetings held with those from within the industry with a significant number of interviews with teachers, brand consultants, students, insights managers, and other individuals better positioned to provide an alternative and fresh approach to the issues we want to discuss.

To give readers an idea on who has shaped our thinking, a listing of those we met is included in the Appendix at the end of this report. This does not include those who asked to input into the report on an anonymous basis. As is perhaps to be expected with such a diverse series of meetings, there was huge variety in the responses to our questions. Those we met had diverging opinions on almost all subjects, particularly around female engineers and the scale of the initiative required. There were those who were very complimentary of existing initiatives and those that were highly critical. The vast majority agreed that there was a problem and that the issue would benefit from a communications-based solution. There was also a recently formed sense of optimism that now was the time to address this issue head on.

To supplement our qualitative research, we have also drawn on a series of reports, existing research and events, some of which we located ourselves, and the rest of which our developing network of contacts provided to us. A sample of the publications, articles used and events attended is also included in the Appendix.

The drafting of this report started at the close of our final meetings and follows several hours of full team meetings, brainstorms and messaging sessions where we looked at the problem from a communications perspective. This document is intended to provide practical and tangible ‘next steps’ for the ERA Foundation to consider and share with partner organisations and institutions, together with the outline of a broader vision of what a communications-based solution would look like.

The Starting Point

This brief could in all honesty have been written at any point in the last twenty years. Some would argue further back still. There are many problems facing the engineering profession but most lead back to the basic fact that the industry is simply not attracting a sufficient number of people. The other issues affecting the engineering work force, ageing demographics, gender imbalance, poor career progression to name a few, would be remedied if more people were being drawn into the profession in the first place.

There are many reasons why youngsters are not attracted to engineering, whether it is the perceived difficulty of the subject matter or the lack of ‘glamour’ associated with a career that is traditionally associated with hard hats and tool belts. A quick survey of the entertainment industry will show you that on the big and small screen, engineers are often portrayed as bespectacled geeks, who are awkward in social situations and dressed in unfashionable attire, whilst many other equally academic professions, such as doctors and lawyers, are portrayed as attractive, sociable and monetarily successful role models.

Despite significant expense and time invested to resolve the issue, the majority of young people and women in particular, remain unexcited and/or unaware of the prospect of a career in the profession.  There are of course those within the profession who would dispute this. However whilst there has been progress made, the improvements are small and percentage increases from various initiatives remain in single not double digits.

Although it is clear that the problems facing engineering are not easily resolved, not one of the past or current initiatives has had the game-changing effect necessary to truly shift perceptions and stimulate a much needed influx of young people into the profession. Whilst many initiatives are innovative and well received, most are only chipping away at the problem, arguably appealing to too small an audience, often among those young people already receptive to the profession. Whilst they have increased the number of people interested in or thinking of opting for engineering as job or area of study, they do not have great influence over the broader realm of public opinion.

We have been asked, ‘what is different about this report?’ The inference being that it will simply join the towering pile of reports already written on this issue that have made little difference. If that is the case then an opportunity will clearly have been missed, particularly as there is clear appetite for change and political will to back any efforts.

We think this report is different on two counts:

 (i) It was written by communications experts from outside the engineering profession. We have not been hamstrung or exhausted by living with this problem for decades and have therefore been able to bring an external, fresh and open approach to the subject – treating the issue as a communications problem, understanding which really are the important audiences, and considering what the most effective messaging would be.

(ii) The scale of our approach is arguably broader than those that have gone before. Whilst several organisations currently operating in this field have specific target audiences and objectives, the open remit of our brief means we have been able to look far more widely at the key influencers and develop an ambitious strategy to reach these audiences and achieve, or at least work towards, a societal shift and re-alignment of perceptions, in order to build interest in and excitement around engineering.

36,000 Problems

It will come as no surprise to those reading this report that the industry has a problem. EngineeringUK has confirmed that whilst the UK is currently producing 51,000 engineers per year, the profession and industry require some 87,000 engineers to meet projected demand. This 36,000 shortfall is the most pressing challenge facing the industry. It stands to have significant economic repercussions, damage international perceptions of the UK profession, and inhibit the innovation and progress that characterises our domestic engineering.

The reality driving this deficit is that engineers have become invisible to the people and audiences to which they need to be most visible to. The engineers of the future or, to be more precise, the many thousands of young people who show an aptitude for science, maths and design, are simply not considering engineering as a prospective career path. To compound this, neither their parents, nor their teachers, are encouraging them into the profession. Why? Our research has shown us that engineering offers a career that is varied, well rewarded, creative and exciting. In addition, the profession is now certainly not short of advocates or supporters. You would struggle to find anyone in government, industry, or the media that does not recognise the role engineering will play in the re-balancing and growth of our economy (particularly as the public’s and policy makers’ perceptions of the financial sector have changed so significantly).

These important stakeholders are right to voice their support. The engineering sector is currently contributing upwards of £1.1 trillion to the UK economy, an amount that represents 24.5% of the turnover from all UK enterprises[EngineeringUK The State of Engineering 2014]. This looks set to grow over the coming years, particularly following the Government’s commitment to increased spending on infrastructure. It is a sector with an abundance of successful and innovative small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) as well as internationally renowned corporations. There are ample employment opportunities for both graduates and apprentices, and the starting salary is undoubtedly competitive.

With such strong support from these important stakeholders and the economic case to justify said support, the question we repeatedly asked ourselves is why are young people not more attracted to or excited by a career in engineering?

We all know that engineers are innovators, problem-solvers and inventors. They help to put men on the moon, save lives with their advances in medical equipment, put smartphones in the hands of the public, and develop the apps, programmes and software that so excite our younger generations.

“The solution to every major issue facing our planet and population will require the involvement of engineers. Whether climate change, an ageing population, or food supply, engineers will tackle these problems.” – Political representative

All of which begs another question, one that we also put to many of our interviewees. Is it a problem with engineering ‘the product’? Or the way it is being sold?

There is no simple answer to this question. There are undoubtedly issues with ‘the product’. Graduate engineers often have a bumpy ride as they transition from study to work and many women report a hostile work environment created by a basic lack of female friendly facilities and a work culture which, due to its predominantly male history, is less than embracing.

Nevertheless these issues do not move away from the central tenet of the question as to why, after so much time, money and effort has been spent attracting people into the profession, here, in the US and other European countries, the uplift in numbers remains so low?

Consider these two possible explanations from a 2010 study in the European Journal of Engineering by Frank Stefan Becker:

“Young people are too dumb to understand the advantages of an engineering career”

“They are too clever to overlook the disadvantages”[Frank Stefan Becker, Why don’t young people want to become engineers? Rational reasons for disappointing decisions. 2010]

Becker argues that discussion to date has focussed – if only implicitly – on the first assumption which he says has triggered even more well intentioned efforts at persuasion. What he goes on to identify is that if change is really desired, it is on the decision makers in society to “dispense with the wishful thinking and try to respect the reasons the target group may have for disregarding the unanimous advice”.

Whilst we agree with some of Becker’s findings and embrace the fact that a ‘we know best’ approach from adults in positions of influence rarely has the desired effect, our work has shown that the advice many young people receive is not unanimously positive on the subject of engineering – in fact, some is quite negative. You only have to consider the innumerable headlines young people are exposed to on challenges facing engineering confirming “the chronic shortage of engineers” or the “lack of female engineers”. What we did recognise, though, was the need for any communications strategy to look at all the influencers, rather than choosing to focus just on those within the education system.  

Recent statistical research has found that only 16% of young people claim to have “some” knowledge about what engineers do[EngineeringUK The State of Engineering 2014]. Sadly, it is more than likely that these 16% of young people have an antiquated and predictable image in their heads of hard hats and high-vis clothing. From our interviews with young people and their teachers it is clear that this is the case. On the whole, young people continue to perceive the profession as inflexible, uncreative, and restricted only to large-scale civil engineering-type work. Think Brunel, bridges and boilers. They simply do not see the professional ‘fingerprints’ of engineers on the gadgets they love, the buildings they admire, the technology that inspires them, or in the designs around them.

“It’s all science and maths – with set answers and no leniency. You cannot use your imagination.” – Student, 16

“British engineering has a sort of faded glory. It is bridges, boilers, turbines. In other words, ‘boys things’.” – Industry representative

Despite early evidence that the tide is slowly changing, the industry’s best efforts so far have not communicated the creativity, variety and excitement involved in a career in engineering. The truth is that, for too long, engineers have let their work do the talking for them. We need engineers to shake off their ‘behind the scenes’ identities and become ambassadors that talk proudly about the full range of work and sectors they are involved in.

Crucially, this has to happen in the right forums. Currently so many of the fantastic initiatives being run by the bodies charged with improving levels of engineers happen in places you would only come across if you were already interested in engineering or within the educational environment.  We need to start talking to young people in a language and location that resonates with them, using examples that seek to excite as broad a range of audiences and influencers as possible.

As has already been highlighted, a vast amount of highly credible work has already been done in this area both in the UK and further afield, some of which has been used to inform this report and its conclusions.  In particular, the recent and extensive assessment conducted by the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, Professor John Perkins CBE, in his ‘Review of Engineering Skills’. 

We met with Professor Perkins at the outset of our project, prior to the publication of his report, and have found that as our research progressed much of our analysis echoed many of his findings.  Certainly our thinking in terms of both the scale and significance of the problem is in line with Professor Perkins’s own views, and we agree that there needs to be “purposeful and effective early intervention to enthuse tomorrow’s engineers”[Professor John Perkins Review of Engineering Skills 2013]. However, where we differ is in the scale and boldness of our approach to resolving the “widespread misconceptions and lack of visibility that deters young people” from pursuing engineering.

Key Findings

What is causing the problem?

Although not a finite list, our research has shown six key issues to be responsible for the shortfall in progress in enticing new engineers into the profession. These issues range from structural obstacles to softer perception-based issues, but all serve to obstruct a lift in regard for engineering. 

1. Ingrained misperceptions

As already touched upon in our outline of the problem, a key issue facing engineering is one of perception. Despite many of the world’s leading engineering companies being British, a pioneering national history in the sector and fantastic current examples of innovative home-grown engineering, perceptions of the profession are woefully low. Although some of these beliefs are driven by a lack of understanding rather than an educated assessment of what engineering is, these views represent one of the strongest pulls away from the profession as they not only affect the target audience but all the influencers on that audience. If these misperceptions persist, the relatively small pool of people capable and qualified to pursue engineering will continue to lean towards other professions and degrees.

The negative associations include the beliefs that:

Engineers receive poor financial reward

An overwhelming number of the young people we spoke to did not consider engineering to be a career that offers competitive financial reward. What is crucial to understand is that those young people who possess strong numeracy skills now expect to see substantial financial rewards in employment. This has almost certainly been caused by huge growth in the financial sector over the last decade – a career in the city is simply too great a pull for a young graduate to consider much else. We strongly believe that salary matters a lot and that there is a worryingly low awareness of the competitive salary a career in engineering offers.

Engineering offers a vocational and fixed career path

When young people are making decisions about what to study at university, few express a committed desire to pursue one specific profession. Engineering is placed in the same category as studying medicine – with the fixed idea that studying the subject necessitates a career in that field. However, without the benefits associated with medicine, and at exactly the time at which they are looking to broaden their horizons, young people have told us that studying engineering felt too narrow, closing down their options on graduation. Engineering is viewed as being a restrictively vocational subject, without applicability to other jobs or career paths.

Engineering is not creative or fun

With mathematics and physics forming the backbone of the academic path into engineering, it is perhaps unsurprising that many view the profession as being deeply uncreative and technical. Very few people shared perceptions of the profession with any awareness of the creativity and innovation that forms the foundation of a career in engineering. Whilst young people perceive other professions to offer significant opportunity for fun, engineering is yet to harness these associations.

Engineers are uncool

Unlike doctors and lawyers who have been glamourised in TV programmes over the past years, engineers continue to be perceived as “less cool” than those in other professions. In spite of a recent shift towards “geek chic”, enhanced and popularised by ‘Tech City’ and notable entrepreneurs, engineering has not yet experienced any major perception shift.

It is not a desirable career for women

Both parents and young people spoke candidly about their perceptions of engineering as an unsuitable or undesirable career choice for women. The antiquated image of hard hats and high-vis has rendered most parents, particularly mothers, wary of encouraging their daughters into a career that is “dirty”, “greasy” and “manual”. There is simply little to no awareness of the breadth of engineering and the characteristics the profession has that should absolutely appeal to women (such as the significant design element).

2. Early specialisation

Young people have an innate fascination with making things; they are captivated and excited by their early experiences of science and experiments. It is not a coincidence that sales of LEGO continue to grow in spite of the range of   impressive electronic toys available for children. At an early age children are inspired by science and interested in building and changing things. Most are unaware that the activity they are engaging with is anything more than fun.

The number of young people entering the pool of prospective engineers is seriously hampered by an education system that forces people to classify themselves as an ‘arts’ or ‘science’ student from an early age and to believe that the two are distinct and separate. 

From the age of fourteen when selecting their GCSEs, young people are directed down one of two pathways. The divide between arts and sciences is compounded by misperceptions similar to those of engineering, and expands into wider stereotypes of science students and their subjects.

Young people explained to us that arts subjects were generally perceived as being “cooler” and “more creative”. Whilst parents, interestingly, viewed the science subjects as weightier than those offered under the arts umbrella, at the age of fourteen, the social pressures weighing on a young person make it far easier to follow the “cool crowd” in favour of arts subjects.

There are many people who believe that a broader International Baccalaureate style system, would not only enable young people to keep their options open for longer but would also lessen the classification of students as being either a science or arts student, recognising that these two subject areas have more in common than some people are led to believe.

“When people are asked to choose arts or sciences now, they are often unaware of what they are giving up. It is particularly hard to re-enter the scientific world if you have previously followed the arts path.” – Industry representative

3. Political, social, educational and financial neglect

Many of those we spoke to talked fervently about the lack of investment and attention given to UK engineering over past decades. As the country established an economy dominated by the financial services industry, engineering was allowed to fall into the shadows.

 It should come as no surprise to anyone that we are struggling to recruit engineers, or indeed encourage young people into the profession. For over thirty years we have promoted the financial services to the detriment and neglect of our manufacturing and engineering sector.” – Industry representative

 “Various governments thought that the economy could thrive on a diet of banking and retail.” – Industry representative

Three decades of political and social focus on the City and its associated industries have left the profession neglected in many ways. It has been starved of media oxygen, received few public endorsements from those within the industry, and dropped to the periphery of our national identity. You only have to consider the column inches and broadcast hours dedicated to the Booker Prize in comparison to that dedicated to last year’s inaugural Queen Elizabeth II engineering prize.

As a result, when talking to teachers, young people and parents, engineering has fallen well behind finance and law when they are asked to consider the aspirational nature of these professions. Engineering is simply not thought of in the same bracket, nor is it perceived to offer the same financial rewards, prestige, or the exciting work environment as a career in the City.

“Whether it is snobbishness or ignorance, you will not find parents of children at this school recommending a career in engineering. They would far rather their scientifically-able children became doctors or bankers.” – Engineering/Design and Technology Teacher at a Kent secondary school

Even the school is actively discouraging students away from studying engineering. The subject is simply not considered to have the same clout as other academic pursuits.” – Engineering/Design and Technology Teacher at a Kent secondary school

By way of contrast, it was suggested that we consider the status afforded to engineers within the military. One individual we spoke to explained that in the army it is not the doctors who are sitting at the top when it comes to professional hierarchy, it is the engineers. They are credited as being the group with the skills and ability necessary to realise mission objectives. With this in mind we looked at rallying cry posters of the war era, such as the ‘Your Country Needs You’ approach, which has inspired so many campaigns since. Unfortunately, having played with various versions of this message and testing it among those we spoke to, we found that it did not resonate with young people. They felt it placed too heavy a burden on their shoulders and made too little of the opportunities and excitement they prioritise when choosing a career.

The lack of prestige associated with engineering in wider society is all the more pertinent given that whilst the numbers of students studying the subjects necessary to pursue engineering has increased – over the past ten years the numbers of students studying chemistry and physics has grown by 224.2% and 218.9% respectively – we are yet to see this growth mirrored in the numbers of young engineers[EngineeringUK, The State of Engineering 2014]. With a larger pool of students qualified to pursue engineering, what is holding back those with the power to influence young people from taking on the role of industry advocates?

Today’s teachers have a heavy workload and are under pressure and – whilst we are conscious of not adding to their workload – they are in a position of influence, yet few of them have direct knowledge of or experience in engineering.  Tomorrow’s Engineers is a great delivery vehicle for this audience and with the additional support from government it should develop into the initiative that the industry needs it to be.  

While schools are legally required to provide impartial, objective careers guidance on all post-16 options, there are concerns that this is not happening effectively across much of the UK education system. In September 2013, Ofsted published its findings into the careers service being offered in schools and found that “very few”[Ofsted, Going in the right direction? Careers guidance in schools from September 2012, 2013] schools had the necessary skills to provide adequate and effective careers guidance.

There were concerns about a lack of connection with employers and a tendency to prioritise academic pathways rather than to provide information about vocational training. Schools were also not thought to be properly promoting the National Careers Service; however, this is not specifically marketed to young people and sadly lumps ‘manufacturing and engineering’ in one tab on its skills section.

There is currently significant national debate over the quality and range of careers advice available to our younger population with the British Chamber of Commerce and others calling for change. There is no doubt that the quality of careers advice varies wildly from school to school and that many professions and employment options are neither fully explained nor promoted. That said, engineering suffers worse than most, partly because the teaching profession has little exposure to the broad variety of avenues it offers. Whilst work is now being done to address this, more effort should be made to make guidance information readily available in a format that is easy to deploy.

In the past year we have had numerous offers from law firms and doctors to come and speak to our students about a career in these professions. In my three years as Head of Sixth Form and Further Studies, I have not had a single enquiry from an engineering firm. It is a real shame as all three of our students considering a degree in this area are female and could do with strong role models in the profession.” – Head of Sixth Form and Further Studies in a London secondary school

For obvious reasons, many young people’s academic and career choices are motivated by family connections and influence. This may be because of specific knowledge shared on how to get into a profession, better exposure to what a particular career path entails, or a simple attachment to joining the family business or profession. 

Parents have a huge role in influencing the career choices and aspirations of their children – a fact that to date has not been reflected in the outreach and engagement programmes run by the engineering industry. Mothers in particular wield significant power in directing their daughters down specific career paths.

Given the perception, and to some extent the reality, of the challenges facing women in engineering, it is understandable that many advise against pursuing a career in this field. Mothers have told us of their concerns over institutional sexism, over-dominance of male decision-makers dictating career progression, and in some sectors, a degree of travel that is perceived to be not conducive to family life.

“I wanted to study medicine but my mother dissuaded me. She said that I should become a nurse rather than a doctor and in doing so I would be more likely to get married. I think that society has changed since I was making these choices but that buried thought that women who achieve in what is perceived to be a masculine environment are somehow less likely to be attractive to the opposite sex still persists.” – Mother of three

The media also plays a role in the broader social neglect. There are many television drama series that portray various professions in a glamorous or exciting way whereas engineering tends to find itself the focus of documentary output.

4. A lack of visible champions and role models

 You would struggle to find a qualified lawyer describing their occupation as anything other than “being a lawyer”. Similarly, journalists, even those who no longer write for a living, continue to identify as journalists whichever direction their career has taken them.

The same cannot be said of engineers. Even amongst those we met from the Institutes and professional bodies, few were identifiable as engineers from their job title or in their own description of their role. Career progression often sees individuals drop the term ‘engineer’ from their titles.

Whilst it is important to reflect the management opportunities and transferrable skills developed within the profession, the fact is that there are many hundreds of engineers sat at the top of British businesses without any visible depiction of how their engineering qualification and skills helped to elevate them to that position.

There are also no visible engineers in senior positions in Government; in fact there are only a small number of individuals with an industry background in Westminster.

There are few female role models. For too long, the industry has convinced itself that replacing the traditional images of men on their careers advice and marketing material with pictures of women wearing hard hats and high-vis jackets, will serve to convince women that engineering is a career for them. In our research, consensus was overwhelming. Whilst creating an image for identification and visually representing women in the role, there is also a danger that surface level changes serve only to highlight the gender issue plaguing the profession. There is also a danger that these images are used as window dressing without deeper conviction.

We are regularly bombarded with literature depicting young women in hard hats and high-vis jackets. This says to me – and I expect other women – that the sector is desperate to attract women. Instead of highlighting the problem, we need to get better at saying what’s brilliant about a career in engineering, regardless of sex.” – Female engineer, 29

 Whilst there are companies who have demonstrated significant improvements with regard to the support offered to women, female engineers continued to tell us about the lack of positive female role models above them and an environment which they felt was “hostile” and “unwelcoming”. This issue was also pertinent among parents of girls who felt it would be irresponsible to encourage their daughters into an industry characterised by these sentiments.

“There is a huge shortage of positive female role models in engineering. The first problem is that not enough women go into the profession. The second problem is that so many women drop out of engineering, and those that tend to stay have had to masculinise themselves in order to get on.” – Female engineer, 29

To some extent, the issue of women is a ‘chicken or egg’ situation. A major part of the solution of improving the environment and support for women will be stimulated when the numbers of female engineers increase. However, this does little to provide a short-term solution and generate the initial influx of women required to stimulate this change. Current initiatives have done little to instigate any improvement despite the ample time and funding given to them.

It was clear to us that women want to see an open and transparent response from industry, expressing an upfront and honest desire to change. The young women we spoke to were happy to be part of the solution to the ‘female issue’, but no longer want to join the profession to become the ‘poster-girl’ of the problem.

 “I spent my years studying a subject I loved. Now, just two years into professional employment I have made the difficult decision to leave the industry. What I do is not the problem it’s the atmosphere of the work place and the attitudes that I have encountered, it’s just too hard.” – Female engineer, 26

Another factor contributing to the lack of visible role models is the fact that engineers are not renowned for their communication skills. Whilst many of the major engineering companies and institutes run school outreach programmes, these often see an individual with a particular expertise give a talk that is likely only to appeal to a very small percentage of the class. By allowing untrained and narrowly prepared speakers to address this key audience, it could be that these outreach programmes are doing more to discourage prospective engineers than to incite the intended excitement and interest.

5. The term engineering

 Undoubtedly one of the biggest issues that the engineering profession faces is its very definition. Engineer is a wildly generic term: most dictionaries have between six and ten definitions ranging from; ‘a person trained in any branch of engineering ‘to ‘mechanic’. The general public simply does not know what it really means. 

A consistent theme across our research was an acceptance that the term engineering is challengingly vague. For some this represents a unique opportunity to broaden the definition of engineering and develop a ‘catch-all’ strategy for enticing prospective engineers. Others consider the lack of clarity afforded by the term engineering to be the profession’s single greatest obstacle.

 “In Germany you would never find the man who comes to fix your boiler calling himself an engineer!” – Design & Technology Teacher

 “The term engineering is wonderfully broad. This breadth is a real strength of the profession and needs to be communicated.” – Industry representative

 A second issue that emerged was the uniquely British problem that perceptions of engineering have been unhelpfully restricted because of the increasing application of the term engineer to those more accurately referred to as technicians. A key facet of any solution to the problems facing engineering will seek to differentiate, in a positive capacity, the work of a chartered engineer with those whose job it is, for example, to mend your boiler. We stress the need for a ‘positive’ differentiation. Messaging needs to be developed that highlights the strengths of the profession, indirectly elevating the status of engineering, rather than directly challenging the incorrect use of the term.

Some of our interviewees suggested that changing the term ‘engineering’ in a total rebrand, would in itself sweep away the perception problem. We also considered prefixing the title engineer, not just necessarily with a sector specification such as Chemical Engineer, but considering a broader prefix such as Professional Engineer.

However despite the usefulness and affection for the idea of adding a prefix to the various terms, such a move would fail to tackle the underlying negative associations with the profession. Whilst it may sound attractive to wipe away unwanted perceptions and associations, even if it were possible to rebrand, what would stop people from using the term ‘engineering’? Advertising? Erasing it from the dictionary? The more you think about this seemingly simple solution, the more you realise that it is an impractical and unworkable suggestion.

Initiatives that miss the broader targets

Frustration was the overwhelming sentiment running through our meetings with industry and institute representatives. Many look at the significant amount of money being spent and the number of initiatives being run and question why there has been such minimal progress in improving perceptions of and recruitment into engineering.

Whilst these initiatives are run with the best of intentions – and with some degree of success – they are predominantly targeted at young people, and often neglect to consider the wider influencers shaping and informing the academic and career decisions these young people will make that ultimately determines the likelihood of them entering engineering.

We do not propose to replace the current schemes targeted at young people, but we do believe the content could be improved. The real challenge lies in selling engineering to the wider society and in doing so lifting its status. If we are able to do this, we will succeed in getting far more people into the pool of prospective engineers. We need to build on the tangible frustration from industry and interest groups, and find consensus on the need for a broader campaign.

A Communications Strategy 

There is of course no silver bullet that will resolve the issues we have identified. That is partly because there is no single issue or barrier that is influencing the problem: the issues are many and the audiences are broad. There are also factors that cannot be changed, or that are not within the industry’s gift to alter, and we do not underestimate the complexity of the political and financial obstacles that may lie in the path to resolution.

However, in spite of the clear structural issues contributing to the shortfall in prospective engineers, there is no doubt that more can be done to address the ‘softer’ issues, namely the misperceptions of the profession, lack of visible champions, and social neglect that play a significant role in reducing the number of people pursuing the subject and a career in engineering. 

We are confident that a potent, intelligent and wide-reaching communications strategy could have the game-changing impact necessary to make real in-roads into resolving a problem that has eluded the industry for so long. A strategy of this kind could correct inaccurate assumptions, enhance existing initiatives, and bring engineers out from behind their products, inventions and innovations. In the longer-term, it could also generate the impetus and drive for some of the structural changes we are currently unable to make. As a first step, and to inspire the societal shift needed so imminently, we must, in the short-term, change how the industry and stakeholders communicate about engineering.

Our objectives:

To raise the profile of the profession and the skill-set it provides in order to increase the number of candidates in the pool of prospective engineers. That is to say, at its most basic, to drive growth in the number of people seriously considering the profession. This is a key point, in that currently young people see engineering courses as a route only to a career in engineering. They do not view the subject as they would a degree in Politics or English, from which they know few go on to become politicians or English teachers. To those who say that studying engineering and then working in another field is a waste, we would argue that the country would benefit from more people with engineering skills, both inside and outside the profession. Whilst we know that some will be lured away by companies and opportunities beyond the realm of professional engineering, more engineering graduates will serve to raise the profile of the skill-set and demonstrate the opportunities on offer to those who study the subject. The simple fact is, more people in the “funnel” will, whatever “the leakage,”[Professor John Perkins, Review of Engineering Skills 2013] lead to more qualified engineers and technicians.

To shift perceptions of the profession so that young people, teachers and wider society have an accurate and compelling understanding of both what engineering is, its breadth, and the varied opportunities on offer to those who study and work within the profession.

We are acutely aware of the number of stakeholders that would need to buy into the approach we are proposing – particularly as the methods we believe will inspire the level of change required, will need a unified push from industry. We also know that different stakeholders are likely to have different appetites for campaigning. As such, we have developed an approach that acts like a menu. It builds from those actions that should be relatively easy to achieve consensus on, to those that require greater investment and commitment to far-reaching engagement and change.

We are confident that the frustration so evident among those we met will provide the impetus for unity we are hoping for. Only with a shared understanding of the end goal and a consistent approach are we likely to make a meaningful difference to the issues facing engineering. It is important to stress that this is not about ownership; this is about an understanding that a broad campaign will benefit all involved.

Our approach

Phase 1: Updated and unified messaging:

An overwhelming criticism levelled at the industry and those bodies attempting to inspire potential young engineers was the number of, and variation in, messages they heard on the subject of engineering. Young people told us that they were simply not sure what they were supposed to be thinking about a future in the profession. More worryingly, many felt alienated or uninspired by the messages they were receiving, noting the frequency of communications showing predictable images of the profession with individuals wearing hard-hats and high-vis jackets.

Whilst we do not advise a complete departure from the industrial reality of some elements of engineering, our research showed us that young people, their teachers and parents became animated, inspired and excited when shown the many aspects of the profession and select case studies demonstrating the breadth of the industry and the sectors it is involved in.

The sector’s reach clearly resonates with society’s developing fascination with the qualities of entrepreneurship, inventiveness and creativity, which has been driven by the media exposure given to high profile success stories, particularly those that have married money with invention. 

Sadly it seems that young people in particular are unaware that engineers are behind so many of these impressive inventions – whether personally developing them or having been commissioned to make these ideas a reality. They recognise those individuals responsible for these products as businessmen and women, CEOs, and inventors, but not as engineers.

We feel strongly that the most effective communications campaign and messaging will work to raise the profile of this connection and show the professional ‘fingerprints’ of engineers on the products, buildings and objects that inspire young people.

Crucially we want to develop industry-wide messaging that demonstrates the level of success enjoyed by so many as a result of their engineering skills. By raising the profile of the association between engineering and success through recognisable products, we are confident that we can win the support of parents and teachers so crucial in shaping the decisions made by young people. These messages will be drafted so that they show the breadth of the profession, the opportunity for creativity and entrepreneurship, and avoid getting stuck on the specifics of different branches of the profession. Effective messaging of this kind would generate an interest and enthusiasm on as broad a level as possible.

The American National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has conducted a great deal of research into the topic, and their findings resonate with many of ours. In fact, many of the early taglines that the NAE developed through this work seemed to resonate with those we spoke to and wider UK audiences, for example:

  • Turning ideas into reality
  • Because dreams need doing
  • Designed to work wonders
  • Life takes engineering
  • The power to do
  • Bolder by design
  • Behind the next big thing

It proves that continuing to emphasise maths and science in marketing or rebranding engineering is unnecessary and may damage rather than increase the appeal of engineering. This is interesting as it runs contrary to the approach taken by the Tomorrow’s Engineers website that is currently working to attract young people into the profession by emphasising this connection. We would argue that the link between engineering and science is already well known. It is the relationship between engineering and creativity that needs to be highlighted.

The NAE’s work led them to identify four messages to promote engineering, these are: 

  • Engineers make a world of difference. From new farming equipment and safer drinking water to electric cars and faster micro-chips, engineers use their knowledge to improve people’s lives in meaningful ways.
  • Engineers are creative problem solvers. They have a vision for how something should work and are dedicated to making it faster, better and more efficient.
  • Engineers help shape the future. They use the latest science tools, and technology to bring ideas to life.
  • Engineering is essential to our health, happiness, and safety. From the grandest skyscrapers to microscopic medical devices, it is impossible to imagine life without engineering.

We would argue that these are simply too long and that if the industry is going to embrace and deploy unified messages that they should be simpler: 

  • Engineers are creative problem solvers
  • Engineers help shape the future
  • Engineering is essential to our health, happiness, and safety

Of course these top-line themes would be supported by a subsequent series of messages designed to re-establish the truths about engineering. We were fortunate to be given an insight into exactly what the strengths and positive realities of a career in the profession were and believe that any messaging effort must work to shake up both the stereotypes and tackle the myths associated with engineering. We want people to know that:

Engineering is a well-paid profession

Engineers are well paid, as are graduate engineers. Indeed, the average starting salary of an engineering and technology graduate is £25,762; 15.7% more than the mean for all graduates. This is because engineers are in demand; it is a skilled profession working across a wide range of sectors solving an even wider range of problems, and companies will pay a premium for this skill-set.

 Engineering is playing a key role in driving our economic recovery

With the country’s economic focus moving away from financial services, engineering is taking up the mantle and driving growth in our economy. With new government commitments to investment in infrastructure, the contribution made by engineering looks set to grow from its current level of £1.1 trillion to the UK economy.[EngineeringUK, The State of Engineering 2014]

Engineers are problem solvers

All those we spoke to were able to provide fantastic examples of the innovative solutions developed by engineers. Ranging from a solar-powered fridge used to keep medication cool in the third world, a magnet capable of measuring gas levels in canisters, or even a single-use syringe thought to be responsible for saving 60 million lives, it soon became clear to us that what excites engineers is problem solving.

“How to improve the levels of prospective engineers? Stop teaching engineering and start teaching problem-solving.” – Industry representative

Engineering offers a strong career ladder to ambitious professionals

Our research also showed us that there are engineers in senior positions across a range of companies both within and outside the sector. Engineering skills clearly equip you for management and career progression, with opportunities to climb a career ladder on a meritocratic basis.

A career in engineering offers global opportunities

Many of the engineers we spoke to had taken the opportunity to travel in their profession. With engineering skills applicable on a global basis, the profession offers an exciting way to venture outside the UK.

Engineers have friends in high places

 With the government refocusing the national economy on engineering and manufacturing, the industry has significant top-down support from politicians hoping to re-establish and boost the profession and UK’s reputation in this area.

 Phase 2: Review and enhancement of existing initiatives

 Having developed this messaging, we want to provide a way for partner organisations to ‘plug-in’ to a complete set of resources and effective messaging tools that uphold our new themes.

 We propose the development of a website portal with relevant and potent collateral. This platform would allow interested parties to access the tools necessary to ensure a consistent voice. The front page of this portal would have a simple design, one that avoids hard hats, cogs, protractors or even racing cars.  Our messaging would sit prominently, emphasising that:

 ‘Engineering is an art form where you use your imagination to solve a problem or create something; maths and science are the building blocks to make the figments of your imagination come to life’

 In addition, for those stakeholders who have come with us through the message development process, we propose to conduct a review of existing initiatives. We want to maximise and unify efforts and believe that several of the programmes being run at the moment could be improved with some simple adjustments.

This phase would commence with a process to identify which audiences are being communicated with, which are being overlooked, and to measure the effectiveness of each programme. We know from our research that many young people and teachers voiced concerns over the sheer number of programmes being run to address this problem. Whilst we are not setting out with the intention of replacing or removing any of these initiatives, it is important to prevent schools and parents from feeling overwhelmed or confused by an influx of information. The key point for schools is that materials should be easy to access and implement, avoid adding significantly to the teacher’s workload, and, where possible, have a high digital content and ample opportunity for interaction.

Having carried out this assessment, we would seek to enhance existing programmes by supporting the adoption of our new messaging and collateral, providing proper training for those entrusted to address key audiences, and acting as advisor on content and tone of engagement. Having been granted the attention of target audiences, we do not want to alienate them by talking predominantly about niche areas of the industry or by allowing an untrained and uninspiring engineer to address them. All those addressing school audiences should ensure the majority of their presentations describe engineering in the broadest sense, opening students’ eyes to the full scope of opportunity intrinsic to the subject.

 A final aspect of Phase 2 would involve the creation of a press office to support the industry’s media engagement. By providing a process by which SMEs and larger corporations can effectively communicate their news to the media, we can ensure a greater volume of coverage for the exciting work we know is taking place. In addition, by allowing communications advisers to guide content, we can uphold key messaging and generate the sort of positive associations with engineering that will resolve the issues we have addressed.

 Phase 3: A broader campaign that targets all influencers

 Leave your mark

 There was one clear tenet that emerged from all the conversations that we had: that engineers have been allowed to become invisible to wider society. When engineers complete an impressive project, rather than shout their achievements from the rooftops, they merely pride themselves on a job well done. Some would say that this lack of self-promotion is inherent in the individuals who enter the profession, but we feel it has become an unhelpful part of its culture. Engineers rarely leave their professional ‘fingerprints’ behind. This tendency to remain ‘behind the scenes’ is a contributing factor to why society appears unaware of the role that engineers play in their built surroundings, infrastructure, equipment and devices. This is all the more surprising given that most of the major issues facing the country in the coming decades, whether in energy, transport or infrastructure, will be solved by engineers. Some told us that the visibility of the profession must also contend with a society which no longer cares what or why something works, just that it does.

Although the industry has made progress it still has a long way to go and an honest and frank approach by employers, that takes the stance of, ‘we’re working hard, but we’re not there yet’ would yield a more positive response. Whilst new messaging and enhanced initiatives will drive change, a more significant shift can only be achieved with a broader campaign. At the outset of the project, one of our aims was to start people talking about engineering, creating activity that would drive conversation and create interest in the subject.

Within the communications tool kit there are many things that you can do to make this happen, from publicity stunts, to bold calls on government, all of which may still be useful in the long run. But we moved away from the big conversation approach and towards an idea that we believe will have a more sustainable impact in the long run.

As touched on earlier, we realised that what is needed is a campaign that reveals the essential and exciting work of engineers and encourages them to talk proudly about their role in society.

We want engineers to leave their professional ‘fingerprints’ behind and be proud to leave their mark. We want to unmask the invisible engineer and encourage even those who no longer have the term in their title to raise their voices and acknowledge the skills that they gained from this most valuable of professions.

 Using this fingerprint concept that sits central to our messaging, we would hope to bring engineering into society’s mainstream consciousness and rebuild the link between the products, buildings, bridges, gadgets, and inventions and engineering.

 Further discussion is needed to develop this concept and decide what information would be included in or accompany the fingerprint image, such as whether it would say that the product was ‘engineered by…’ and whether it should contain a company name or the types of engineers involved in the project e.g. the building of the Shard.  In addition, a QR code could be placed within the fingerprint linking to the campaign portal website.

 A question remains over the scale of any campaign. It would cost an eye watering amount of money to place our fingerprint logo on every product, bridge, tunnel, cog or widget. In some instances it may not be practical to do so, but this does not mean that we could not place virtual ‘fingerprints’ on items, displayed in adverts or literature, or make use of more visual demonstrations such as projecting ‘fingerprints’ onto buildings and large scale items of infrastructure.

We have explored launching the campaign through advertising, in a nationwide initiative that would see the image appearing on products in shops across the country, or introduced slowly through smaller scale programmes and travelling engineering hubs. The scope to get creative with this idea is unlimited.

In line with this, we would also look to establish a stronger narrative on Engineering in the public domain. In unmasking the invisible engineers we would publicise those engineers in our society, in government, in business and in entertainment. For a campaign of any scale to be effective in shifting public opinion, it must be sustainable and make use of all the communications mediums that exist.


  • ·     Start with the truth: Communicate honestly with all audiences. Identify the current strengths and weaknesses of the profession and talk openly about what the industry is doing to improve. 
  • ·     Allow communication experts to develop and test messaging without industry influence:  Give objective outsiders the opportunity to create messaging that is proven effective with the full range of target audiences. Be open to messaging that is based on what is attractive, exciting and engaging to young people, their parents, teachers, and wider society.
  • ·     Work to establish strong associations between engineering and entrepreneurship, creativity, success and variety. 
  • ·     Adopt a unified approach to messaging: Call for industry and relevant organisations to unite behind the messaging to ensure a consistent and effective approach to tackling the shortage of engineers.
  • ·     Provide a platform for existing organisations to plug-in and easily access and adopt messaging: Develop a website and collateral that can be easily embraced and added on to current initiatives.
  • ·     Manage and enhance existing engagement initiatives: Audit existing initiatives and objectively assess their effectiveness. Work to enhance those schemes driving change by improving collateral and plugging-in new messaging.
  • ·     Widen the reach of engagement strategies: Understand and acknowledge the full range of individuals influencing young people in their decisions. Develop engagement strategies that seek to shift perceptions in these audiences rather than only reaching out to the direct target audience.
  • ·     Provide training for those entrusted with speaking to key audiences: Stop alienating people from engineering by allowing untrained and uninspiring speakers to address target audiences. Ensure the content of any presentation upholds broader messages on engineering and avoids pigeon-holing perceptions of the subject.
  • ·     Unite engagement strategies under one brand/idea:  Refine and commit to one campaign so that target audiences are aware of one initiative and message set. Put an end to the current situation where the high numbers of initiatives serve only to dilute or chip away at the issues. 
  • ·     Be proud of engineering’s breadth, creativity and wider skill-set: Provide opportunities for engineers, both those within and outside the profession, to talk publicly about their skill-set and the foundation that engineering has provided them with. Demonstrate to wider audiences the full range of opportunities available to those who have studied and practised as engineers, reinforcing the connection between engineering and entrepreneurship, creativity, success and variety.
  • ·     Streamline and improve engineering companies’ media engagement: Provide a process by which SMEs and larger corporations can effectively communicate their news to the media. Establish a central press office and allow communications advisers to guide content so that coverage upholds key messages.



Those who contributed include: 

  • Yewande Akinola, Institute of Engineering and Technology’s Young Woman Engineer of the Year
  • Professor Keith Bowen, Chair of the Engineering Sectional Committee, The Royal Society
  • Nick Baveystock, Director General, Institution of Civil Engineers
  • David Brown, Chief Executive, Institution of Chemical Engineers
  • George Edwards, Student and Founder of Gas Sense
  • Atti Emecz, Director of Strategy and Business Relationships, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
  • Nigel Fine, Chief Executive, Institution of Engineering and Technology
  • Dr Paul Golby, Chairman, EngineeringUK
  • Philip Greenish, Chief Executive, Royal Academy of Engineering
  • Matthew Harrison, Director of Engineering and Education, Royal Academy of Engineering
  • Paul Jackson, Chief Executive, EngineeringUK
  • Dr Joanna Kennedy, Former Director, ARUP
  • Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Julia King, Aston University
  • Dr Julie Maxton, Executive Director, Royal Society
  • John O’Neil, Corporate Development Manager, Royal Academy of Engineering
  • Sir John O’Reilly, Director General, BIS
  • Professor John Perkins, Chief Scientific Advisor, Department for Business, Innovation & Skills
  • Lord Stern, Adviser to the UK Government on Climate Change and Economics
  • Andrew Taplin, Managing Director, Haymarket
  • Bernard Taylor, Chairman, Commission for the Great Exhibition of 1851, Chairman, Evercore Partners International LLP
  • Stephen Tetlow, Chief Executive, Institution of Mechanical Engineers
  • Barrie Weaver, Designer
  • Sharon Witherspoon, Director, Nuffield Foundation
  • Helen Wollaston, Director, WISE

 Those who contributed and asked to remain anonymous include:  

  • 35 working engineers (including 10 female engineers)
  • 18 students
  • 3 Heads of Sixth Form
  • 12 Parents
  • 8 MPs
  • Head of Year 7 at Sheffield secondary school
  • Design & Technology Teacher at London secondary school
  • Design & Technology Teacher at Kent secondary school
  • Assistant Head of London secondary school
  • Head of Careers at London secondary school
  • LEGO UK Brand Manager


Our research also draws upon the following:  

  • Changing the conversation – National Academy of Engineering
  • Why don’t young people want to become engineers? Rational reasons for disappointing decisions – Frank Stefan Becker
  • The Case for Early Education about STEM Careers – ASPIRES Project, King’s College London
  • 2012 Engineers and Engineering Brand Monitor – FreshMinds
  • Maths and science education: the supply of high achievers at A level – Department for Education
  • Subject and course choices at ages 14 and 16 amongst young people in England – Department for Education
  • Perkins Review
  • We made it! event at Parliament
  • British Airways Careers Day