Why we must change perceptions of engineering: the case for National Engineering Day

  • 2 November 2022
  • Education, Technology
  • Jo Trigg

The opportunity for the UK to benefit from engineering’s contribution to growth, productivity, and sustainable solutions for net zero is at risk. We continue to have a chronic shortage of engineers and technicians and gaps at every level in engineering skills. We also have a significant diversity shortfall in engineering - only 16% of professional engineers are women and just 10% are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. If we are to address some of the most complex global challenges facing humanity, we need a workforce that reflects the diversity of the society it serves.  

Demand for engineering skills is set to increase. By 2025, an estimated 3,000,000 new UK technology jobs will have been created[1]. By 2030[2], it’s anticipated that there will be 90,000 new jobs involved in wind power; by 2040[3], 78,000 new jobs involved in electric vehicles; and by 2050[4], 260,000 new and 140,000 replacement jobs involved in grid infrastructure.

Yet almost half (47%) of UK pupils aged between seven and 19 haven’t even considered engineering as a potential career[5]; and less than a quarter (23.5%) had even heard about engineering from careers advisors. More young people say they know what scientists and those working in technology do, than what engineers do.

While the reasons for engineering skills shortages are complex, it’s clear that the low numbers of young people attracted to work in engineering is in part due to a lack of understanding about what engineering really is among students, their teachers and parents. Research tells us that engineering is too often seen as a career that is narrow, mechanical, too technical and dull. And this perception is often reinforced by the sort of images you find of ‘engineers’ online and in the media – lots of hard hats, and blueprints, with the vast majority of faces being white and male. The true breadth of engineering – from AI that enables medical breakthroughs to sustainable alternatives to food packaging – isn’t visible and identified as engineering in public life.


The role of a national awareness day

National Engineering Day was created to celebrate and make visible the engineers and engineering improving our lives and shaping our future. It is a date in the calendar around which the Royal Academy of Engineering rallies the engineering profession – and those who rely on the ingenuity of engineers – to show the wider public, the career gatekeepers and influencers, a different image of who engineers really are and what they do.

The day was conceived to complement our This is Engineering campaign – a year-round digital and social media campaign to encourage teenagers to consider a career in engineering – by reaching a wider public audience and seeking to change how engineering is presented online and in the media, which may influence young peoples’ decision making. 

This will be the fourth year we’ve run the day, formerly known as This is Engineering Day, and to date it has attracted support from over 150 organisations. This support has come in all shapes and sizes, from Amazon reprogramming Alexa to talk about the day, to Google Arts and Culture hosting a virtual Museum of Engineering Innovation. This is Engineering adverts featuring diverse engineering role models have appeared on trains and in stations across the UK, and the likes of Sir Lewis Hamilton HonFREng, TV presenter Konnie Huq, astronaut Tim Peake and paralympic athlete Jonnie Peacock have shared messages of support on social media, helping the day to trend on Twitter.

Thanks to this groundswell of activity from our friends and partners, we are making progress in changing the image of engineers. Our collective efforts to date have prompted one million young people to consider a career in engineering – but we know there is much more still to do.  


National Engineering Day 2022

This year’s National Engineering Day, Wednesday 2 November, is focused on how engineering improves lives, in response to research that tells us that ‘having a positive impact on the lives of others’ is a key career motivator for young people.

So, whether it’s a device that makes music tactile or a virus-busting vaccine, clothes that grow with you or a battery that makes any bike electric, the day will make visible the engineers and engineering delivering a small improvement to someone’s day-to-day life as well as helping to tackle the big challenges of our time. If you search #NationalEngineeringDay on social media, you’ll find lots of stories being shared by the engineering community and its supporters about how engineering improves lives.

We’re also publishing new data about the size and geographic spread of the engineering economy in the UK, and where the UK’s engineering hotspots are i.e. regions where a high proportion of the population (between one-in-two or one-in-three) are employed in the engineering economy. The data shows that hotspots of engineering appear all over the UK, not just in major cities: Mid Ulster, West Cumbria, Flintshire and Wrexham, West Lothian, and Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire are the areas where the highest proportion of the local population is employed in engineering. 

You may also spot something a bit different happening today. To help us reach an audience who may not realise how relevant engineering and engineering skills are to their lives, we’ve worked with some engineers who are famous bakers – you may recognise them from the Great British Bake Off – to ‘engineer’ a celebratory cake and encourage others to do the same. Because you can’t have a celebration without a cake! But also, more seriously, because engineering an amazing bake uses many of the skills and engineering habits of mind that an engineer uses day to day.

Plenty more activities are being hosted by partners and supporters, and we’d encourage everyone to get involved. The simplest way to do so is to share some of the content being posted on our This is Engineering and Royal Academy of Engineering channels on social media, or to post your own message about how engineering is improving lives using #NationalEngineeringDay.


Beyond perception change

National Engineering Day is designed to broaden public perceptions of engineering, but perception change and more visible, more diverse role models are not enough to address the engineering skills and diversity shortfall. It is also essential that government invests in a robust national STEM careers strategy for all education settings to highlight the opportunities that careers in engineering provide.

This would include providing a broader education for all young people to 18 years of age.  Limited GCSE choices force many to drop creative subjects like design and technology and art and design, as well as computer science, which is a foundational subject for so many career pathways in our increasingly data-driven and digital economy.  

It would also provide equal support to vocational and academic pathways into careers, which are currently valued differently, and more support for young people who choose to take T’ Levels, and the employers who contribute to them by hosting work placements. 

Importantly a careers strategy that helps address the engineering skills shortage would also place greater emphasis on lifelong learning and upskilling and reskilling the current engineering workforce. We cannot look only to the next generation to fill gaps. Government, engineering employers, education and training providers will all need to collaborate to ensure our current workforce can meet the needs of tomorrow, building on the work of Institutes of Technology and Local Skills Plans. 

But today, perceptions are a good place to start, and something that everyone can help to change. We hope you’ll join in and follow along with our celebrations, to help inspire the next generation and enable engineering’s future contribution to society.


[1] ‘Fast Forward for Digital Jobs’ Tech UK

[2] ‘Net Zero Workforce’, Engineering UK

[3] ‘Net Zero Workforce’, Engineering UK

[4] ‘Net Zero Workforce’, Engineering UK

[5] EngineeringUK.- data from the 2019 Engineering Brand Monitor survey

Jo Trigg is the Director of Communications and Engagement at The Royal Academy of Engineering.

Email: jo.trigg@raeng.org.uk

For more information, please see www.raeng.org.uk/national-engineering-day, and @ThisisEng on Twitter.