Founder of Gas-Sense, George Edwards offers a more direct approach to promoting careers in engineering to young people.
Through my business Gas-Sense [see box out below], I have found myself in various factories and was shocked to discover how different my perception of engineering was compared to what the reality actually is.
This insight got me thinking about how industry is marketed to young people – the potential next generation of designers, makers and entrepreneurs, and how we can more effectively communicate engineering to them.
When grouped in with the other STEM subjects – science, technology and maths, engineering is a niche subject, one very much in the minority.
According to Pearson UK, almost 6.8 million students study maths in the UK, and more than 157,000 study physics; yet little more than 2,000 sit engineering. Alarmingly, 1,870 study Irish – yet UK manufacturing is worth two-times the GDP of Ireland.
The often solely negative media headlines surrounding engineering or manufacturing stories also work to actively discourage young people from pursuing careers in industry.
Gas-Sense is a simple but powerful product which accurately measures the amount of gas left in gas bottles. With sales in 13 countries and the backing of Sir Richard Branson, Gas-Sense is poised to have a significant technological impact on the industry.
Edwards developed the product as part of his A-Level Engineering coursework, but was prompted to patent it and seek out commercial opportunities after receiving intense interest at the Big Bang Science Fair’s annual Young Engineer for Britain Competition, where his project was highly commended.
Yes, there are organisations actively promoting positive messages to young people; but the majority are approaching the issue from different angles and perspectives.
The result? The core message has become disjointed, diluted and, crucially, isn’t getting through to those who need to hear it.
What we need is a common message, reinforced across all channels which works to make the point more strongly. What we need is “Brand Engineering”.
For the bulk of technically-minded school and university graduates, engineering careers are competing against alternative professions in law, finance or medicine.
As such, we should be aware of the benefits careers in industry pose over those other professions.
It’s worth highlighting here that ‘Post-Millennials’ – i.e. those born after the mid-1990s – are deciding their careers based on a very different set of values and beliefs to previous generations.
For the most part, Post-Millennials are tech-savvy, digital natives who typically desire holistic experiences and a healthy work-life balance.
With the financial crisis and the junior doctor strikes having affected public perceptions of banking and medicine respectively, now is arguably the ideal time to capitalise on generational shifts and changing public views of competing professions, and promote the wealth of opportunities engineering offers.
Brand Engineering must communicate the most attractive features of engineering, specifically tailored to the career desires and goals of young people.
- Flexible ways to work, allowing for a varied and satisfying career without the need to be trapped behind a desk every day
- Opportunity to work on projects which make a genuine difference to communities and society as a whole
- Gain valuable, globally-recognised skills, offering the chance to travel the world, engage with a wide variety of different industries and benefit from job security
Brand touch points
Touch points are every opportunity that a brand has to interact with its audience. Having grown up in the internet-age, engulfed by advertising via television, radio, media and the high street, young people have become increasingly anaesthetised to marketing.
As such, to promote Brand Engineering compellingly, there needs to be a reinforced, coherent message reliably communicated across a range of channels – both direct and indirect.
For young people, indirect touch points include teachers, parents and other family members. They are obviously not something that we can control, but we should certainly endeavour to influence moving forward.
Direct touch points within industry’s control cover everything from work experience and career talks/fairs, to media interviews and advertisements. There are two other vital touch points which must be highlighted: technology and popular culture.
We all interact with technology every day, and young people are particularly engaged with it. Yet the link between technology and engineering has been lost. If we were able to regain that connection, it would be a potentially powerful touch point for engineering.
Taking medicine as an example, young people frequently experience hospitals and GPs first hand through popular culture.
Television schedules are filled with documentaries portraying the human side of healthcare, such as 24 Hours in A&E and One Born Every Minute, with numerous prime time dramas, sit-coms and soap operas all working to ensure careers in medicine are highly visible.
Where are the engineering equivalents?
We need to create a core brand message for engineering, and ensure that every careers talk, work experience placement, media exposure and interaction with young people is on point.
Next time you are faced with one of these opportunities, consider:
- Product: what is engineering? Demonstrate advanced technology; digital innovations; exciting processes, and factories making things – moving away from just showing automotive production lines.
- Positioning: how does engineering compare against other careers, what are the benefits? Above average salaries; flexible working; new challenges; opportunities to travel; learn new skills; job security; engage with cutting-edge research and development.
- Value: what effect can you have? Show how engineering projects can go beyond generic CSR activities, from reducing land fill at home to supporting developing communities abroad.
- Vision: where will industry be in 10 years? Excite young people with future possibilities of smart factories, industrial automation, human-robot collaboration, etc.