Hats Make Harder Sell

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 forge a career in the industry, an organisation that awards MBS scholarships to engineering students is claiming.

Sainsburys Management Fellows (SMF) says surveys it has taken among second and third year engineering undergraduates shows that such images gives off a negative view of the industry as conservative and boring.

SMF chairman David Falzani said “These images are stereotypical, and do not convey what an emotional experience being an engineer can be. When you have a picture of two men wearing hard hats adjusting a pipe in the desert, that might be a very important project, but it doesn’t show what is really involved in such a project.”

SMF, which was set up by Lord Sainsbury of Turville 27 years ago and has so far awarded over 300 bursaries to students hoping to go to business school with an average value of £30,000, studied engineering magazines going back 18 months and says it found 185 instances where a hard hat image had been used either 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 asked them to consider what kind of attributes they would give to a career in construction as a result. Only 19% of those surveyed said this meant engineers had exciting jobs.

Falzani, who has been a beneficiary of the SMF scheme himself, said he was not sure what should replace the hard hat image, although he thought more use of pictures of the projects engineers are involved in might be useful.

He said it was important to make the sector more exciting for members of “Generation Y” – young people who have grown up with the internet – because surveys showed they were so brand-conscious.
“Engineering has an important role to play in growing the economy,” he said, “but we need to attract young people who want to work in it.”

He denied that not featuring images of hard hats might lead some young people to believe that engineering was not involved with building sites. He said the army’s use of uniform and battlefield imagery to recruit young people was different because that was something young people aspire to. “People don’t see the possibility of wearing PPE as something that makes engineering exciting,” he said.

Professor Barry Clarke, president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, said it was important 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 encourage them to take up a career in the sector.

He said: “Young people start to make choices which affect their career path at the age of 11, so action to alter perceptions should focus on proper engagement with this age group, steering them down the right educational path in order to pursue engineering.”

He said the ICE and other organisations were uniting to drive this forward through “mentoring, ensuring good careers advice, competitions and raising awareness with schools through initiatives like the Big Bang fair”.

“STEM Ambassadors, who act as role models for young people though visits, clubs and careers days, are also making a real impact,” he added.

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