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Engineering in the spotlight for 2018 Year of Engineering

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Jane Sutton, Senior Communications Manager at the Royal Academy of Engineering takes us behind-the-scenes of the preview of the 2018 Year of Engineering.

A galaxy of engineering and political stars gathered at the Science Museum on 7 September to celebrate the launch of a new government-led initiative: the Year of Engineering 2018. With ministers in attendance from across government, it’s clear that HM government is committed to showcasing engineering achievements and highlighting the value of engineering careers.

During 2018, the Year of Engineering aims to give thousands of young people aged 7 to 16 direct and inspiring experiences of engineering, challenging traditional perceptions and tackling a lack of diversity in the profession. By bringing young people from all backgrounds face to face with engineering role models, the initiative sets out to widen the pool of young people who enter the profession. Only 9% of UK engineers are women and 6% are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds – led by the Royal Academy of Engineering, the profession is working hard to change this.

The Year of Engineering aims to build on a multitude of national and regional initiatives that already promote engineering as a career choice, including EngineeringUK’s hugely popular Big Bang Fair, which brings over 80,000 students and their families to the NEC every year to celebrate engineering. The annual Tomorrow’s Engineers Week will also be a highlight of the year with activities around the country.

Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, said: “Opportunities for the next generation of engineers are everywhere you look, from major infrastructure projects like HS2 and investment in shipbuilding to advances in technology and healthcare. There’s never been a better time for young people from all backgrounds to consider a career in engineering, and for Government and industry to join forces to tackle the shortage of engineering graduates and lack of diversity in the workforce.

“The Year of Engineering will unify and build on activity already happening across the industry, supporting partners to reach more people and driving a national conversation. Only by working together can we offer a coherent and clear message to young people about the value of engineering and the breadth of opportunity that’s on offer.”

L-R: Mr Andrew Jones MP, Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, Dame Mary Archer, Mr Robert Goodwill MP, Rt Hon John Hayes MP at the Year of Engineering preview © We Shoot London

Opening the event, Dame Mary Archer, Chair of the Science Museum Group Trustees, emphasised the Museum’s mission to increase the number of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) graduates and boost the uptake of STEM subjects in under-represented groups.

The Science Museum’s interactive exhibition Engineer Your Future, which inspires teenagers to discover more about the industry and includes the popular Rugged Rovers game, with the support of engineering company, Bechtel has been extended to run throughout 2018. With screenings of inspirational block-buster films like the Oscar-nominated Hidden Figures and a new IMAX 3D film Dream Big: Engineering Our World, which celebrates the human ingenuity behind engineering marvels big and small, visitors to the Science Museum have many ways to discover the story of engineering. The highly successful Robots exhibition, which opened in London, will now headline this year’s Manchester Science Festival, and showcases key figures in the UK robotics industry. In York the National Railway Museum is currently planning the York Central project – a new site for the Museum that will enable visitors to appreciate the engineering feats at the heart of British rail innovation.

Working in engineering opens the way to a vast array of exciting jobs, from designing solar panels to building a Mars rover, from planning city-wide services to developing new ways to diagnose and treat diseases. The key message from people in the profession is “come and join us, engineering is fun.”

Engineering also makes a major contribution to the UK economy, contributing over 20% of UK gross value added and accounting for half our exports, but a shortfall of 20,000 engineering graduates every year is having a significant impact on productivity and growth. Tackling the skills gap and encouraging more young people to enter the profession is a vital part of supporting the government’s Industrial Strategy, and is increasingly important with growing investment in new technology and landmark projects such as Crossrail and the national digital infrastructure.

Speaking at the launch, ministers welcomed pledges of support from more than 130 organisations, including Shell, Rolls-Royce, Usborne and Tata Consultancy, and called on others from all sectors across the profession to get involved. Exhibitors included the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award 2017 winners Raspberry Pi with their credit-card sized computers, and also the Award’s finalists: cybersecurity pioneers Darktrace and VisionRT, who have refined body surface imaging to deliver the most accurate radiotherapy treatment available.

Bipedal Walker, built by David Buckley and the Shadow Robot Project Group, 1987–97 from the ‘Robots’ exhibition at the Science Museum © We Shoot London

Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark said: “Engineering makes a significant contribution to our economy and the Government is determined to strengthen it further. We are supporting workers and business to invest in the skills they need to build a thriving modern economy. This is the commitment at the heart of the Government’s Industrial Strategy.”

Dr Hayaatun Sillem, Deputy Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “The Year of Engineering provides an opportunity for the engineering community to work collectively to show more young people that engineering is for everyone. We look forward to building on the platform it will provide with our ongoing work to change perceptions of engineering.

“Closing the engineering skills gap is a long-term challenge but we hope that the Year of Engineering is going to be a real clarion call to the profession to help inspire the next generation of engineers.”

After the event, Paul Gibbs, Bechtel’s UK Managing Director explored the importance of engineering: “Bechtel is passionate about inspiring the next generation to follow careers in engineering. We recognise the key role that the Science Museum plays in promoting STEM careers to young people and we are delighted to take on that challenge together with them. This partnership, and initiatives like Dream Big, help young people to understand the extraordinary careers in engineering that are open to them, and the positive impact that engineering can have on people’s lives, the environment, economies and communities.”

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