For decades people have complained that engineering’s poor public image was storing up problems. “Neither industry nor engineering are well regarded in this country…It is equally true to assert that these postures must change if Britain is to prosper,” a government inquiry into the state of manufacturing concluded in 1980.
Not much has changed - most people think globalisation has killed industry in Britain and that manufacturing has little to offer young people as a career. For those who argue otherwise, there is a lot to do.
That’s why it seems the right time to get started. Made Here Now aims to present a different picture of manufacturing and encourage more young people to consider it as part of their future.
Skills remain in short supply. Last year, the Royal Academy of Engineering estimated that Britain would need 1m new engineers and technicians by 2020 if we are to make the most of our economic opportunities. For some time I have found the situation troubling. There is widespread agreement that manufacturing and engineering have an image problem, and that changing this is vital if we are to attract more young people into industry. But the efforst so far have lacked imagination.
There is no shortage of initiatives to raise awareness of engineering and industry, mainly among children. Many industrial companies do excellent work in arranging visits for schools and encouraging their engineers to act as “ambassadors” for the discipline. Bigger projects are arranged by organisations such as Tomorrow’s Engineers and the Stemnet network.
But for a number of reasons the current ideas are not effective enough. Most existing projects are led by people inside industry or education – just the people who have failed in the past to get their message across. The influence of others with communication skills such as journalists, broadcasters and advertising practitioners has been absent.
Frequently the interest triggered in children before they reach their teens dissipates as they get older. The lack of awareness of the possibilities of engineering and manufacturing among older people – the children’s parents and teachers – makes for a poor background.
The positive messages at school may be cancelled out by the negative ones in the world outside, discouraging young people from going into industry. It can often be difficult to explain technical processes and products in a way that will capture young people’s imagination. Secrecy is sometimes a problem. Some of the most exciting industrial breakthroughs are being made behind closed doors. Those involved often don’t want you to know about them, to preserve their competitive edge.
In explaining to people outside industry what they do, many companies use conventional public relations and advertising, reinforced by newer, digital forms of communications. Such ideas work reasonably well when aimed at a limited audience. But for a wider group – the people a broader campaign about manufacturing and engineering should target – these techniques often fall flat.
The messages conveyed by a single company can appear self-serving. If businesses try too hard to tell the public how wonderful they are, people are likely to become suspicious. Quite right too. What is the company trying to sell? Is it as good as it says it is?
If the current ideas aren’t working we must try something different – which explains the beginnings of Made Here Now. Our project will be based on journalism, backed by fresh thinking in marketing and communications. We want in particular to focus on the people – particularly young ones – who are working in industry and other technology-based fields and are gaining from this experience.
Most young people aren’t interested in companies, or in engineering as an abstract phenomenon. They are interested in real, practical things they can identify with – which basically means other people and what they get paid to do.
How did they get into the industry? What are their stories? What do they do all day? How much do they earn? Why do they love their jobs? What are the highlights? Can you travel the world as an engineer? What was their training like? How long did it take? What did they have to do? These are questions we plan to address.
Editorial control – the choice of what to write about and how stories are told and illustrated – will be independent of companies and organisations with their own agenda to promote. Made Here Now will connect people looking at the website with the many other relevant parts of manufacturing. These included the organisations that offer training and education; other sources of advice, encouragement and inspiration; and of course the businesses that need the new marketing and technical people if they are to prosper.
That means creating a series of routes through the website to enable users to find what they need backed up by marketing to make people aware of it. We want to create connections as much as do everything that’s needed by ourselves.
What you are looking at is the result of the work so far. We are just beginning. Much more needs to be done. We want you to get involved – send us your suggestions, stories and video clips. The long-term aim is to change the way the UK industry communicates with people and to build the basis for a better future. With your help we can do it.