Britain’s leading engineers will launch a campaign this week to break the mould of British engineering – to leave behind the conventional image of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his illustrious Victorian counterparts and blaze a path to a diverse modern engineering profession that can benefit from the skills of all sectors of society. Women and those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds make up a large pool of potential talent that is still significantly untapped by the engineering profession.

The Royal Academy of Engineering will point out that fewer than six per cent of engineering professionals are female, despite many excellent and inspiring recruitment campaigns. 25 years after the foundation of the Women into Science and Engineering campaign (WISE) which has done excellent work to bring women into science and technology. Progress has been made in attracting more women into engineering as a degree subject - today 15 per cent of engineering undergraduates are women compared with just 4 per cent two decades ago. Clearly, however, there is a long way to go to achieve gender balance.

Providing the innovation needed to ride out the current recession represents both a challenge and an opportunity for Britain’s engineers and scientists and many more will be needed. However, the UK is undergoing a rapid demographic change. By 2011, only 20 per cent of the workforce will be white, able-bodied men under 45 years old. This group has been the traditional source of engineers, so in order for the UK to maintain a skilled workforce, the engineering community must attract engineers from different backgrounds including:

  • Women – who now make up over 45 per cent of the UK labour market
  • Ethnic minorities – although only accounting for 8 per cent of the UK population, 80 per cent of the ethnic minority population is aged 16 to 35 and this will lead to ethnic minorities forming an increasing proportion of the workforce
  • Disabled people – around 18 per cent of the working population have a disability.

Internet pioneer Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, is leading the Academy’s campaign. Dame Wendy, who was appointed DBE in the New Year Honours list for services to science and Technology, says “It’s vital for the UK that we recruit the brightest young people into engineering and science, including new talent from families and schools who may never have thought about engineering as a career. The financial turmoil and the recession actually give us a huge opportunity to entice people who have studied engineering and science away from the City and back into innovating for the future, which is where they are badly needed.”

The Academy is already demonstrating the power of working with schools through the London Engineering Project (LEP), bringing together 50 schools in Southwark and Lambeth and working in partnership with London South Bank University in a determined effort to widen participation in engineering further and higher education. The LEP has worked in schools and colleges to stimulate interest in engineering as a career, focusing particularly on attracting more women, black and minority ethnic students and more students from families with no previous involvement in higher education. The pilot project has been highly successful and well received in schools with 54 per cent female participation and over 70 per cent black and minority ethnic.

Academy President Lord Browne of Madingley says “If the UK is to remain competitive we must seek out, develop and use the full talents of potential engineers from all backgrounds. Diverse teams produce better results in engineering, where different experiences and ways of thinking often lead to innovative outcomes. Engineers serve society, and the profession should reflect the diversity in our society in order to understand, communicate and engage effectively with the wider community.”

Notes for editors

  1. The Academy’s diversity campaign will:
    - Actively promote engineering as a career to young people from underrepresented groups and low-income backgrounds.
    - Develop effective practice standards and guidance for all professional activities and schemes of the Academy
    - Diversify the Academy’s Fellowship to better reflect the engineering community and encourage under-represented groups
  2. For more information on the London Engineering Project see www.thelep.org.uk
  3. For background on campaign leader Professor Dame Wendy Hall see www.soton.ac.uk/mediacentre/news/2008/dec/08_244.shtml
  4. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering

Tel. 020 7766 0636