Posted: 3 November 2015
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The ultimate prize

The QE Prize for Engineering shines a spotlight on the industry’s most significant achievements and, in doing so, aims to inspire a new generation of talent. Mike Westcott, Global HR Director, discusses the accolade and its accompanying inaugural report - and reveals what National Grid is doing to electrify more and more young minds.

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The ultimate prize

The ultimate prize

(From left) Samantha Webb, Griffin John, Erinn Sapsford and Ben Goode.

“It’s a motivational message for young people. By choosing engineering, you can be part of an industry that will be responsible for creating a better world.”

Mike Westcott, Global HR Director, National Grid.

Insight:

A career in engineering also topped the list of jobs seen as vital to economic growth, while ranking an impressive fourth for both prestige and accessibility.

Source: ‘Create the Future’, a survey run by The QE Prize.

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to represent National Grid at the 2015 Queen Elizabeth (QE) Prize for Engineering ceremony at Buckingham Palace. It’s the ultimate accolade in our industry and a brilliant catalyst for capturing the imagination of a new generation of engineers.

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Mike Westcott, Global HR Director, National Grid.

This year’s £1m prize was won by chemical engineer Dr Robert Langer. Dr Langer was the first person to engineer polymers that control how drugs are delivered in the treatment of diseases such as cancer and mental illness. More than two billion lives have been improved worldwide by Dr Langer’s ground-breaking work.

But the QE Prize has a bigger objective than just rewarding Dr Langer for his engineering exploits. By celebrating the success of engineering and its global benefits to humanity, it aims to raise the public profile of our profession, which, in turn, will inspire more young people to become engineers.

Hearts and minds

This is critical both to National Grid and the broader engineering sector. It’s an unsettling fact that neither the UK nor US has the current capacity or rate of growth needed to meet the forecast demand for skilled engineers by 2020. The QE Prize is certainly one way of helping to capture the hearts and minds of a new generation.

Alongside the award itself, The QE Prize ran a comprehensive report into the state of engineering, called ‘Create the Future’. The survey, undertaken in 10 countries, examined the views of 10,000 people towards engineering – and it paints a fascinating picture of how our industry is perceived, what it could achieve and the challenges we face.

There are some pretty big statements in there. Not least the overarching feeling that engineering holds the key to human progress.

Engineers will have a hand in solving a range of global challenges. And globally, people are incredibly optimistic about what they feel engineering can achieve in the next 20 years, with ‘improving renewable energy’ topping the list. It’s a motivational message for our young people. By choosing engineering, you can be part of an industry that will be responsible for creating a better world.

A career to revere

A career in engineering also topped the list of jobs seen as vital to economic growth, while ranking an impressive fourth for both prestige and accessibility.

However, it’s a profession that many feel is undervalued. Some 70% of respondents felt their country’s engineers didn’t receive the recognition they deserved for the contribution they made to society. And the report highlighted several other challenges:

  • In the UK, interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is 89%, yet interest in engineering is substantially lower at 43%. In the US, interest in STEM is 91%, compared to 45% in engineering. In an emerging nation like India, the figures are way higher, with STEM interest at 99%, and engineering at 83%.
  • These statistics get worse when looking at the opinions of 16 to 17-year-olds, with only 20% in the UK and 30% in the US interested in engineering. Again, India has the highest interest levels in engineering at 80% for 16 to 17-year-olds.
  • When it comes to gender, there’s an even bigger split in the UK (58% of men interested in engineering, 28% of women) and US (54% men, 3% women). Emerging nations show better balance, with India’s figures 85% and 79%.

The report’s findings reinforce much of the work we’re already doing at National Grid in the UK and US to inspire a new breed of creators, inventors and leaders. Our continued success as a business – and society – is dependent on unlocking the promise, passion and ambition in young people.

That’s why we’re working on lots of programmes to promote STEM subjects, shatter gender and industry stereotypes, and build essential work-based skills. We’re determined to be a force for good and inspire young people of all ages across the UK and US. Here’s a snapshot of the work we’re doing:

Shattering stereotypes

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Mike Westcott celebrating the QE Prize 2015 with fellow delegates.

We’re determined to explode the stereotypes that jeopardise our sector’s growth potential. In terms of helping to balance the gender divide, we support initiatives like Girls Inc’s Summer STEM Camp in the US, while in the UK programmes such as School Power and Imagineering show young people, and especially girls, the possibilities that exist from engaging with STEM.

Our Get Skilled initiative, meanwhile, helps 16–20-year-old NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) youngsters to build the skills they need to thrive in the world of work. Our EmployAbility, Let’s Work Together scheme helps put students with learning disabilities on the path to employment, while our Young Offender Programme provides offenders with employment, reducing the reoffending rate among participants to less than 7% compared to the 50% national average. What’s more, our apprenticeships, student development and graduate schemes cater for young people with a range of educational backgrounds and provide the various skills and experience they need for a successful career in engineering. Once they’ve qualified, there’s no barrier to how far they can climb in our business.

Teaming up

We believe that collaboration is key to meeting the challenges of the future. Working together, we can better understand the challenges facing society, and combine ideas to make a more positive impact. We sponsor and partner with organisations, working groups and industry boards that put STEM skills at the heart of their mission.

We support Earth Week in the US and the Big Bang Fair in the UK, which combine career advice with exciting science and engineering demonstrations. These events show young people the exciting opportunities that exist if they gain the right skills and qualifications. We also offer a series of UK work experience schemes that reveal what it’s really like to be a National Grid engineer, and through our Careers Lab, we’re working with schools and businesses to make careers advice more inspiring for 11 to 16-year-olds. As well as forging links with children of all ages, we have flourishing partnerships with universities throughout the UK and US, as we seek to inspire and engage the next generation.

Skills through service

We believe service to others not only breeds qualities critical for the workplace, but also helps create more thriving societies. Our commitment to volunteering and community work is built into every aspect of our employees’ time at National Grid. The volunteering programme run by our Community Action team enables colleagues to use an interactive hub to choose a volunteering activity linked to their own personal development goals.

We also work with education charity City Year, which places 18 to 25-year-olds in the UK and US into volunteer service for a year. Our teams in London, Brooklyn, Boston and Providence do meaningful work with children who might not have had the best start in life. The volunteers benefit too, as they develop invaluable personal and professional skills. And we support national campaign Step Up To Serve, which encourages young people to be more actively involved in their local communities.

From sustainable energy, to healthcare, infrastructure and beyond, humanity faces some incredible challenges. Solving them will require diverse and unconventional thinking from bright minds across all genders and social divides. The next Dr Langer or Marie Curie could be sitting at the back of a classroom right now. We’re determined to find and inspire these youngsters, so we can all meet the challenges of the future.

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