According to an organisation that awards MBS scholarships to engineering students, the engineering industry needs to tone down its use of images of men in hard hats if it is to inspire more young people to pursue a career in the industry.
According to surveys conducted by Sainsburys Management Fellows (SMF) among second and third year engineering undergraduates, such images give off a negative impression of the industry as conservative and boring.
“These images are stereotypical, and do not convey what an emotional experience being an engineer can be,” said SMF chairman David Falzani. When you see two men in hard hats adjusting a pipe in the desert, it may be a very important project, but it doesn’t show what is really involved in such a project.”
SMF, which was founded 27 years ago by Lord Sainsbury of Turville and has so far awarded over 300 bursaries to students hoping to attend business school with an average value of £30,000, studied engineering magazines dating back 18 months and claims to have found 185 instances where a hard hat image was used in editorial or advertising where a more aspirational image could have been used.
It asked the students to look at the recruitment ads in these magazines and national newspapers and consider what kind of qualities they would bring to a construction career as a result. Only 19% of those polled thought this meant engineers had exciting jobs.
Falzani, who has benefited from the SMF scheme, said he wasn’t sure what should replace the hard hat image, but he thought more use of images of the projects engineers are involved in might be useful.
He stated that it was critical to make the sector more appealing to members of “Generation Y” – young people who grew up with the internet – because surveys revealed that they were extremely brand-conscious.
“Engineering plays an important role in economic growth,” he said, “but we need to attract young people who want to work in it.”
He denied that the lack of images of hard hats might lead some young people to believe that engineering was not involved with construction sites. He claimed that the army’s use of uniforms and battlefield imagery to recruit young people was unique because it represented something that young people aspired to. “People don’t see the possibility of wearing PPE as something that excites them about engineering,” he says.
Professor Barry Clarke, president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, stated that it is critical that images used in the media “capture the excitement and diversity of a career in engineering,” but he added that this alone would not be enough to entice students to pursue a career in the sector.
“At the age of 11, young people begin to make decisions that affect their career path, so action to change perceptions should focus on proper engagement with this age group, steering them down the right educational path in order to pursue engineering,” he said.
He stated that the ICE and other organisations were working together to advance this cause through “mentoring, ensuring good careers advice, competitions, and raising awareness with schools through initiatives like the Big Bang fair.”
“STEM Ambassadors, who serve as role models for young people through visits, clubs, and career days, are also making a significant difference,” he added.