Engineering won't attract the best talent unless diversity and inclusion is tackled

If the consultancy and engineering sector is to address skills shortages and see real change in creating a more diverse workforce, organisations and companies need to find more collaborative ways of working together and challenge outdated misconceptions, according to the chief executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Speaking at the Skills Summit 2018, hosted by the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) in London, Dr Hayaatun Sillem said access to talent was crucial for the UK’s economy and underpinned a longstanding skills crisis which the industry faced. Sillem cited the academy’s research which found that the UK faced an annual shortfall of up to 59,000 engineering graduates in filling core engineering roles.

“We will never attract the best talent unless we tackle issues around diversity and inclusion,” the Royal Academy of Engineering chief said. “Making our companies fair and attractive to everyone is imperative and we need to create working cultures that are inclusive and welcome to everyone based on merit.” 

The academy has used a marketing-led approach with content which it hopes will be more attractive to the younger generation and challenge outdated views of what engineers do. The This is Engineering campaign is one example of this. Led by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng)  in partnership with eleven major engineering organisations, it attempts to change the perception of engineering among young people aged 13-18. A video package presents a positive image of modern engineering through real young engineers. It illustrates how engineering is behind many of the things they are already interested in like sport, fashion and technology.

But greater collaboration is needed, according to Sillem, if the industry is to see change. “The collective impact currently is not resulting in the change we are seeking,” she added. “It’s crucial we find ways of working together to achieve that impact we desire. The royal academy is working ever more closely with Engineering UK so our collective efforts make much more of a difference.”

The RAEng  chief also highlighted issues of diversity. 14% of the UK population is from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, but only 6% of professional engineers come from these backgrounds. Sillem said the latest statistics on diversity were “shocking” and it was vital that firms and the education system attempted to “improve the appeal of engineering” across all backgrounds.

However, Sillem believes there is a glimmer of hope when it comes to attracting more women into the industry. “Encouragingly, our analysis of women who graduate from engineering degrees shows that around the same proportion go into engineering jobs as men,” she said, “So, it suggests that once, we get young women into higher education and doing interesting engineering degrees, they are keen to take jobs in the profession.”

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