BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT is backing a campaign that aims to change the narrow perceptions of the engineering profession, writes Emily Price, PR Apprentice at BCS.

There are many crossovers between engineering and IT, as both suffer from an image problem and negative stereotyping, along with issues about a lack of diversity and inclusivity. The Royal Academy of Engineering is behind, This is Engineering Day, on 6 November, that aims to raise awareness about who and what an engineer is and to celebrate those who shape our future. It’s part of an overall, Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, which is being promoted across the sector, led by Engineering UK.

Engineering could be one of the most poorly understood STEM careers, with new research showing that over three quarters (76%) of young people aged 11-19 do not know a lot about what those working in engineering do - and this could have far-reaching implications for everyone. According to the World Economic Forum, there are many engineering roles that will be crucial in positively shaping future society and protecting our environment and many of those roles incorporate IT.

However, the UK has a shortfall of up to 59,000 engineers every year and research shows that the majority of young people aged 11-19 ‘probably or definitely’ do not want to become an engineer (52%).

There are many crossovers between IT and engineering, for instance:

  • New Technology Specialists, who will make solar and wind energy more flexible and reliable by advancing energy storage capacity. That means, we can store vast amounts of energy from renewable sources to help us meet peak demand, mitigate future energy crises and move away from carbon-emitting fuels.
  • Information Security Analysts, who will make cyberspace safer. For example, by preventing cyber-attacks or developing blockchain technologies that enable authenticated and transparent digital voting.
  • Software and Applications Developers and Analysts, who will, for example, enhance virtual reality (VR) for use in healthcare. Engineers are already developing virtual reality healthcare systems, complete with treadmills, to help people with Parkinson’s improve mobility, and exploring applications of VR that help sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and stroke.
  • Innovation Professionals who will, for example, provide access to clean water in the developing world and improve water efficiency in developed countries through new strategies for reducing water use.

According to analysis by BCS diversity in IT, as far as women are concerned, still has a long way to go:

  • Women accounted for 50% of the working age population in 2018 (those aged 16-64), 47% of those in work and 46% of the unemployed.
  • There were 226,000 female IT specialists in the UK workforce during 2018 - 16% of the total at that time.
  • The level of female representation in IT varies by job type - from around one in twenty IT Engineers and Telecoms engineers (5% and 3% respectively) - to around one in three IT Project/programme managers (30%).
  • Female IT specialists are marginally more highly qualified than their male counterparts and in 2018, six in ten (60%) held a degree or equivalent level qualification.

Daniel Aldridge, Senior Policy Programme Manager at BCS, said: ‘We are backing this campaign because it chimes very much with how we are trying to change perceptions of the IT professions. Females currently represent only 16% of the IT workforce and we need to do better to attract and retain a diversity of talent, by constantly challenging stereotypes and establishing inclusive cultures. Campaigns like this one play a significant part in raising awareness, establishing inclusive cultures, challenging stereotypes and ultimately how we encourage more people into the profession, overcoming the skills gap as well as contributing to a fairer society.’

Image credit: Technical Lead James Moir and Digital Apprentice and Junior Software Engineer Cameron Warwick at work at WOMAD music festival dispelling the stereotype of geeks with laptops.

Further information

For more information on This is Engineering Day, see the toolkit.