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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/T028742/1
Title: Engineering Science Capital: co-creating resources to showcase diversity of engineering careers to 3-7 year olds and families
Principal Investigator: Bridle, Dr H
Other Investigators:
Rajendran, Dr G
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Sch of Engineering and Physical Science
Organisation: Heriot-Watt University
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 01 July 2020 Ends: 30 June 2022 Value (£): 150,618
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Multiphase Flow
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
16 Jan 2020 Engineering Engagement Champions Pilot Expert Panel 16 January 2020 Deferred
17 Feb 2020 Engineering Engagement Champions Pilot Interview Panel 17 and 18 February 2020 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Engineering is hugely important to the UK economy, contributing 26% of GDP. However, within the engineering sector there is a severe skills shortage and a significant gender imbalance. In the UK only around 12% of engineers are women, which is the lowest proportion in Europe. Lack of diversity has a negative impact on company performance and innovation as well as a huge economic cost, with a recent report suggesting that harnessing the full economic potential of women would add twelve trillion dollars to global annual GDP in 2025 (data from https://www.wes.org.uk/content/wesstatistics).

Stereotypes, both related to gender and engineers/engineering as a career, serve to dissuade young people, and especially girls, from considering, and pursuing, engineering careers. There has been a lot of effort by the engineering community to engage with, and inspire, the public, in an attempt to attract young people to engineering, but the recent updated Perkin report noted little overall impact on career uptake. Many initiatives are aimed at older children, though there is significant evidence to support starting careers education early. Research has found that children begin forming career aspirations as young as 4 and at a similar age are strongly influenced by gender stereotypes.

Who you know is also a critical factor; science capital is a measure of your relationship with science (i.e. what you know about it, who you know who works in science etc) and children with low science capital are more likely to have narrow views of science careers and less opportunities to participate in activities which could enhance their knowledge, e.g. work experience, science festivals etc. A Royal Academy of Engineering report on perceptions of engineering confirmed that young people are often not aware of the diversity of opportunities within engineering, the importance of factors like creativity, team work and problem solving, and the relevance of engineering to everyday life.

It is clear that is essential that more needs to be done to challenge stereotypes and develop skills/engineering knowledge to ensure equality of opportunity across gender and science capital to increase diversity in the future Engineering workforce and address the critical skills shortage. Given the range of proven and successful interventions and ongoing activity at later years this project will concentrate on early years interventions, trialling simple approaches and building an evidence base.

Specifically, within this project we aim to build aspects of science/engineering capital with 3-7 year olds and their key influencers (teachers and parents/families), targeting audiences in areas of deprivation, and investigating the process and key components of successful interventions. Understanding the process, i.e. why an activity works, will be a key focus of this proposal generating evidence to support the design and delivery of further Engineering, and STEM, interventions for this target audience.

The project comprises co-creation of resources, showcasing the range and diversity of engineering careers. Engineers will work together with film makers, illustrators, storybook writers, musicians, teachers, public engagement specialists and children to create sets of resources, including hands-on experimental activities, for use in a variety of settings. The developed materials will be piloted in different schools and nurseries, with children and their families, and subsequently, incorporating learning from initial delivery, rolled out to reach a wider audience.

The overall aim of the project is to ultimately attract a more diverse range of young people to consider engineering careers.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Summary
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Further Information:  
Organisation Website: http://www.hw.ac.uk