#STEMspiration for all of us

We’re in March and the chances are that you’ve broken your resolutions already, as have I, my landlady, my boss and my cat. The number one New Year’s resolution according to Statista is to eat healthier, followed by getting more exercise, with spending less and saving more coming in at 3rd.

But what about if we tried a resolution that was a bit different? We’re all for kicking off a new trend. This includes not beating ourselves up about the fact we picked up a chocolate bar on January 3rd – let’s face it, it’s too cold to diet – and starting again when we’re feeling more inspired. Let’s call it the #resolutionrevamp.

But more than this, we think it’s about time we all took a leaf out of Ann Makosinki’s book. Who you may ask? Well this bright spark was just 15 when she invented the hollow flashlight. The idea came to her when a friend in the Phillipines explained she couldn’t do her homework due to no access to electricity. Her recommendation, directed at teens at the TEDxTeen conference, was to “Pursue whatever you want to do…anything you dream of is possible but you have to start and work on it even if it’s just 20 minutes a day.” Advice meant for adolescents or not, I think we could all apply this to our daily lives. Yes, twenty-first century life is busy but without time for creativity, innovation and learning, our world wouldn’t be anywhere near as technically advanced as it is now.

It’s imperative that the next generation get stuck in when it comes to STEM. Skills such as HTML coding, software engineering and robot programming are just some of the many sought after abilities that employees are already in need of, and the future seems set to develop this demand even further.

But what about the rest of us? An idea which is echoed by our blog in April 2015 “Corporate Creativity: The Must Have Of The Digital Age” is that you’re never too young to learn a new skill. Why not make your 2018 resolution to have mastered the art of website design using user-friendly platforms such as Wordpress? Or even better, try and invent something that will make waves in this digital era.

Will Brownies be our future tech queens?

Collecting badges was as exciting as collecting insta likes.

For the first time in a while I’m wishing that I was ten again. Most of the time I enjoy my young adult life but more recently I’ve been reconsidering my hobbies.What can I enjoy for free? And possibly make a little pocket money from at the same time? I know that some bloggers get fantastic perks – free clothes, free meals out at restaurants, and even all expenses paid trips if they become Zoella-level famous.

I have a confession to make though. I’m not highly skilled at HTML coding, a talent which is useful to have if you’re a blogger.

Last month the news broke that the Girl Scouts of the USA have rolled out badges in Robotics, Engineering and other Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths (STEM) subjects. At home I have a sash from my days as a Brownie. I was one of the Elves and my first badges included a broom (House Orderly), a tea cup (Hostess) and a spider web (Craft). I greatly appreciate how these skills have helped me in my young adult life but I seriously doubt whether the Boy Scouts were told it was crucial that they learn how to make a sandwich.

Today’s Girl Scouts will be encouraged to develop their skills in areas such as cyber security which have traditionally been perceived as male-dominated. Our 2015 blog ‘The STEM of gender bias’ examined how toys are colour-coded so as to differentiate between the boys and the girls. It’s about time that belief systems were disrupted – encouraging girls as young as five to understand concepts such as cyber security will help lead the way.

According to Assistant Professor Vanessa LoBlue, young children’s initial concepts about gender are flexible. It is only when children reach the age of around five that concepts around gender begin to be developed. Children then begin to actively seek out gender-related information. Faced with a world which encourages girls to play with dolls and guys to play with trucks, it’s no wonder that many girls grow up to believe that they’re not suitable for jobs in IT, or in mechanics or engineering.


"My badges are better than yours, boy."

Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg knows a thing or two about what it takes for a woman not only to become a C-level member of staff but to compete with the male candidates for a job at one of the world’s most valuable tech companies, Facebook. Rated by Forbes magazine as number 10 in the world’s biggest tech companies, Sheryl worked hard to get where many women wouldn’t even dare to dream, but she wasn’t without her insecurities in the process.

Reading economics at Harvard, Sheryl Sandberg explains to Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs that she struggled with self-doubt. “We know that women more than men suffer with the imposter syndrome and systematically underestimate their own performance. Every test I thought I was going to fail. When I did well I thought I had fooled them.”

Initiatives like those of the Girls Scouts where young girls can now receive badges for developing programming, coding and cyber security skills will hopefully encourage more young girls to consider themselves capable of leadership roles in large technology companies such as Facebook. Women are largely underrepresented in these fields, an issue that I believe will change as more and more young girls are introduced to these subjects from a young age.

Girl Scouts, I salute you. I only wish that I could join. Is 26 too old?

Image 1 Credit: Finished my #Brownie & #GirlGuide badge quilt! Juststarting leader training with @girlguidinguk too... by Sarah Joy

Image 2 Credit: Brownie and Cub compare badges by Girl Guides of Canada

Redefining UK engineering: why UTCs and businesses must collaborate

Andy Osborn, Head of Engineering at UTC Central Bedfordshire

Ask any kid what they’d like to do when they grow up and the chances are the response you’ll get will be astronaut, firefighter or popstar. Little do they know the full spectrum of career choices out there, specifically within the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) fields.

In fact, if you want to be an astronaut, it’s advised that you gain a bachelor’s degree in Civil or Aerospace Engineering. But what’s on offer for students prior to higher education to get them suitably engaged in such studies?

Thankfully, there are now colleges devoted to steering the younger generation towards more technical subjects. UTCs or University Technical Colleges provide 14-18 year olds with the knowledge and hands-on training they’ll need in today’s UK industry. But with little government funding, marketing budget and a desperate need for more support from local universities and businesses, are UTCs being fairly recognised for the difference that they’re making to filling the UK skills gap? And could the difference be even greater if there was more collaboration?

We interviewed Andy Osborn, Head of Engineering at UTC Central Bedfordshire, for his perspective.

Tell us a bit about the UTC Central Bedfordshire.
Firstly, let’s get to grips with what a UTC is because not many people are aware of what they actually are. UTCs teach students aged between 14 and 18 years a number of mandatory GCSEs; however, instead of accompanying these with humanities, languages or art, they study whatever the UTC specialises in, typically technical and scientific subjects. We specialise in mechatronics, manufacturing and automation.

How else are UTCs different from normal secondary schools? What do they offer that normal state schools don’t?
They place emphasis on one area of study. Often students like UTCs because they offer specialist courses taught by teachers who specialise in that field. Similar to a university, no-one teaches outside of their area, whereas at a high school, a humanities teacher may also teach English - there’s a fair bit more juggling involved. Students also enjoy the excellent resources we have. At UTC Central Bedfordshire, we work with local employers to find resources such as PLCs, HMIs, robots and conveyor belt systems to really give the students some context for what they’re learning. The upshot is that they receive the training they’ll need to take them directly into an engineering role.

Local businesses seem to be supportive then?
Local employers provide their time in terms of training the staff to use the equipment correctly in order to effectively teach. The payback for supporting businesses is that it raises the talent pool in their sector. They can come and select the brightest students and fast track those who demonstrate the highest skill set to a job within their business. Lockheed Martin, a global aerospace company, and MJS Group, a medical electronic devices company, are two local companies we’re partnered with. They come in to see the students and educate them about typical roles at their companies, send previous apprentices in to present what can be achieved and set projects for the students to sink their teeth into – projects which reflect the typical applications they would have to deal with on the job.

Tell me a bit about your role as Head of Engineering.
Now you’re asking! As an engineering college, my role encompasses everything from employer engagement through to setting and certifying the curriculum, as well as ensuring the offer is kept fresh and relevant to satisfy the perceived local need. Of course I also teach as well, specifically sought after skills such as PLC programming, HMI and robotics engineering.

What kind of equipment do you have at the college to aid the students in their courses?
A large industrial robot, two table top robots, an industrial conveyor system and PLC Lab. We’d like to have a lot more but UTCs rely on industrial partners for donations as we simply don’t have the budget to afford the various types of equipment which would help us. I spoke with one robot supplier and they gave a price which was miles out of our range. In the end I went to a second hand refurbishers who have donated a robot so we could promote the technology in that area. Most robot manufacturers and automation companies are looking for robot programmers. If we had the equipment in place to train then this would feed back into the vacancies in robot engineering.

I think that most UK businesses need an appreciation of the bigger picture. If a student trains using equipment manufactured by a particular company, then that’s what the student will know when they go into the workplace. Then when they’re asked, ‘What HMI should we be using?” naturally they’re going to recommend the manufacturer that they trained with. The challenge is getting people to see that in the short term.

A joint venture between Unipart and Coventry University, the Institute of Advanced Manufacturing is a great example of what's possible when business and education work together.

Have you any examples of how Central Bedfordshire UTC has developed students into workplaces or universities where they are likely to continue on a STEM career path?
We’ve never had anyone leave here NEET. But don’t worry, we don’t mean our students leave here looking like a scruff, NEET stands ‘Not in employment, education or training.’ Thirty percent of the year group about to leave have university offers, thirty percent have apprenticeships approved and the others are going through the university or apprenticeship selection process, all still within the STEM field.

In your opinion, are UTCs valued enough by the government in light of the STEM gap?
No. Coming back to my first point - nobody really knows what UTCs are. One of our main battles is marketing to the public. Yet once the students come through the door the conversion rate is as high as 75%. Students see the resources and if they want to study engineering they stay.
It’s difficult to persuade people to come out of the mainstream education sector. However, normal colleges and sixth forms won’t have the facilities for STEM subjects that UTCs do. If you want to study plumbing, woodwork, motor mechanics, electrical installation etc. then yes, I’d advise attending a regular college but if students want to engage in a technical specialism, then a UTC is the best place for them.

But are there enough apprenticeship schemes?
There are a lot more apprenticeship schemes than there were ten years ago when I first started teaching. The college had two engineering apprentices, nowadays it has around 100. Employers have recognised they have an ageing workforce, so they are coming to UTCs and further education colleges to source their employees. I’m a bit concerned about how the Apprenticeship Levy will change things though. Apprenticeships used to be fully funded by the government with no cost to the employer. Now there’s a cost which has unsettled things, and the exact nature of that cost to the employer is still not finalised. Apprenticeship schemes are also popular for micro-businesses and SMEs, and the worry is that any funding changes may make them no longer viable for this size of company.

How do you think careers in STEM are perceived by the younger generation? Is the stereotype changing in any way?
The students don’t really know what engineering is when they come, there’s still a typical ‘oily rags’ perception. There needs to be an overall change in the perception of where a career in engineering could lead. Engineering isn’t just in a workshop working on metal or wood, although these are still valuable skills. There’s a plethora of engineering roles out there from nanotechnology right through to aerospace, so what students need is a detailed explanation of the different sectors. The exciting thing about engineering today is that there are new roles being created all the time. At UTC Central Bedfordshire we’re educating students for jobs that don’t exist yet. We provide the underpinning knowledge that will secure them a job in the future. However, we do rely on local industry to keep us abreast of their technological needs.

As part of the #EngineeringFacelift campaign, we aim to spread the message about just how broad the spectrum of career opportunities there are for both men and women within the engineering sector.
The educational awareness needs to come through a collaborative effort. Employers are always looking for recruitment opportunities. It makes sense for businesses to go into a school with a working example of what they do. Imagine taking a working robot into a school hall – the students would become hooked. Then as UTCs we can go in after and say “Remember when such and such company came in, this is how you could work with that equipment every day when you’re older.”

Do British parents also have a role to play in negative connotations of STEM careers?
The difficulty with most UK parents is that they also latch on to the ‘oily rag’ idea because they don’t fully understand what engineering is – again it comes back to education and spreading the message. Often engineering students tend to come from engineering parents. I’m not being sexist, but often the dads are the engineers, and they have more appreciation of what we do. Occasionally our students have mothers in STEM roles, but this is far less common.

This leads in nicely to our next question. In terms of gender roles, do you feel that girls are encouraged to pursue different paths?
Since I started teaching engineering 10 years ago the percentage hasn’t changed, which is a shame. There are 80 students at UTC Central Bedfordshire, 4 of whom are female. However I will say that the female students are always very good, perhaps they have to fight a lot harder to compete. Employers are always on the lookout for female engineers to act as ambassadors for their company. Again, it could come back to the common perception of engineering, and family background.

What extra-curricular activities could motivate young children to consider STEM as a career later in life?
I know HTML coding is now part of the national curriculum, perhaps this could be developed into an application based activity. Rather than just watching graphics move on a screen, actually making a piece of equipment do something. There’s plently of accessible, affordable kit available such as the Micro:Bit, RaspberryPi and Arduino. The important thing is to give the students freedom to make something – it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work – giving young people the space to have that creativity will inspire them to think more about how the world around them has been made.

Do you have any advice for any young people who are keen to become engineers?
Find out as much as you can about engineering and think big about where it could take you. Consider that UK industry has to bring the workforce over from abroad and pay them silly money because there are no local skills available. With a qualification in engineering you’re guaranteed a job and it can be just as lucrative a career path as medicine or law and certainly a more realistic one than being a pop star! There’s also a lot of flexibility – start researching the many different engineering roles out there and you’ll soon discover how varied, exciting and progressive modern industry is.

I know a young person who may be interested in attending a UTC. How would they go about applying?
Students can join a UTC in Year 10 or Year 12. The first step is to attend a UTC open day or event to get a feel for the school and its courses. You can find your local UTC and what its specialisms are here but I’ve also provided a full list of all of the UTCS nationwide below. Once you’ve decided upon the right UTC for you, application is as simple as visiting the website, downloading and filling in an application form and sending it back to us via email.

What are your thoughts? Are you a parent who feels that there’s not enough emphasis on STEM careers in secondary education? Or are you a UK business that feels the government should be doing more to help education and industry work together? Get in touch by clicking the Twitter button below or tweet using the hashtag #EngineeringFacelift.

Redefining UK engineering: why the rockstars of the future will need to study STEM

Naomi Climer, IET President
Naomi Climer, the first female president of the IET

As a company whose clients range from suppliers of automation through to manufacturers of electronic components, we are on a self-imposed mission to do all we can to help shrink the UK STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) gap.

Furthermore, many of us have engineering backgrounds and, despite our current roles as content writers, graphic designers and creative directors, we know from first-hand experience how exhilarating a career in STEM can be.
Take for example, the glass-bottomed swimming pool which will be suspended 10 storeys above south London. How would you like to have been involved in the architectural design of this ambitious project? Or, imagine being the next scientist to find a cure for cancer or a cryptologist working for MI5 to solve complex cyphers written by terrorists.

These are all jobs that can be had by science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates. Yet young British adults display a distinct lack of interest in these courses. Why?

A person with some interesting answers is Naomi Climer, President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the IET. We were fascinated to hear her experiences of the engineering industry on the Radio 4 programme ‘The Life Scientific’ as well as her opinions on how what needs to be done to promote engineering as a ‘cool’ career choice in the UK.
As the first female president of the IET, Naomi has an insight into what it could take to get young people, and particularly young women, into the profession. According to Naomi, being an engineer can and ought to be ‘as cool as being a rock star.’
Naomi is a driving force behind the IET’s Engineer a Better World campaign to get more young people and girls to think of engineering as the career for them and today we are pleased to present her ideas on how we can all help achieve this worthwhile goal.

Why does engineering in the UK have such an image problem?
My career has enabled me to spend a few years in California where engineers are treated like rock stars. When comparing this to the reality of how engineers are talked about in this country, it makes me wonder why the image of the industry is so drastically different here.
Recent IET research used to mark our Engineer a Better Worldcampaign proves that there is an outdated view of the industry, often held by parents. These perceptions are clearly not up to date with the modern landscape of engineering, and are also, albeit sometimes unconsciously, being passed down to children.
Across the pond, the French say ‘ingénieur’ which sounds like ‘ingenious’; now contrast that with Blighty’s ‘engineer’ which sounds like ‘engine’. The word in English has the potential to give the stereotypical perception that engineers are down in the boiler room – fixing stuff, which, for most, I imagine, doesn’t accurately convey the artistry, creativity and innovation that France’s ‘ingénieur’ has the power to conjure up.

How can we change this perception?
The media is a powerful tool which has the potential to influence how we think and what society values. The IET is one of the organisations playing a huge role in educating influencers and parents through the media to help change impressions about engineering. I’m honoured to be leading the IET’s Engineer a Better World campaign which aims to inspire the next generation of engineers and technicians by encouraging young people and their parents to nurture their curiosity and think differently about careers in engineering.

Additionally, one of the activities is Engineering Open House Day which is running again on Friday 29 July this year and is the perfect way for engineers to communicate and celebrate their roles, face-to-face with the UK’s parents and children.

Are there positive role models in the media for young people in general and girls in particular to follow?
I’d like to think I am a positive role model for engineering. I’m the IET’s first female president and have made it my personal mission to shout about the diversity in the sector and challenge perceptions in the mainstream media. There are a growing number of other role models in the media, including some of the IET’s Young Woman Engineer Awardwinners and finalists such as Roma Agrawal who have an increasing presence in the media. Unfortunately though, there’s still not enough.

In a broader context, gender equality and celebrating professional women has become more of a media norm. With this in mind, now is the time to inspire and empower women about the rewarding career options in engineering. And, we most definitely need to make sure the momentum remains and that national conversations continue to ensure people know about the fantastic accomplishments that our engineers – both men and women – achieve. 
What is putting off girls and young women from entering the engineering professions? And, how would having more women involved in engineering benefit their employers and society in general?
I’m aware the industry is, according to stats, painted as a male dominant arena, but women should not be put off by this – although I can empathise why they would on a surface level. In my experience, being a woman within the industry has not been an issue – and has often been an advantage, helping me to stand out and make an impression. It’s proven that organisations with a diverse workforce in the form of different backgrounds, upbringing and sexes are more likely to come up with ideas and innovation that will be relevant to a broader range of society.
Do we need to attract individuals who would otherwise go into the more ‘creative’ industries? 
Careers in any STEM subjects are competing with what people may associate as more creative career paths such as sports, drama or music. For example, as a young girl I desperately wanted to be a cellist when I grew up. Fortunately, my father steered me into a STEM career where I found my passion for engineering. However, my passion for the arts has still been allowed to progress in my engineering career by seamlessly blending the two with each other through Sony projects such as broadcasting live theatre, music and sports to audiences in cinema.
Is part of the problem that the word ‘engineering’ has become too narrow to describe everything that can be achieved using today’s technologies?
The industry is forever expanding and engineering is much more interdisciplinary than before – similar to other industries such as healthcare, education and marketing. All sectors of the industry play a part in what makes the core of engineering so important, and I would not say it’s too narrow a term, people just need to be know more about the exciting world of engineering.
Do you think that schools could be doing more to broaden the appeal of engineering? 
Teachers often come under scrutiny by perhaps not giving pupils enough problem solving work or not having enough knowledge about engineering themselves. However, it’s unfair to expect teachers to have the broad knowledge that is needed to fully capture the excitement of the industry. The curriculum should be revisited to allow room for engineering related activities to be weaved into other core subjects such as maths and science. Mandatory work experience for pupils would also help to introduce students to the exciting world of engineering.
How is the profession changing – is it evolving in a way that would make it more attractive to female entrants?
One of the most exciting things about a career in engineering is that it is always evolving – especially with technological advancements. I also think, however, that the contribution of some really inspiring women is getting more attention which I hope will act as an encouragement for young girls across the UK.
Putting gender discourse aside for a moment, everyone should see engineering as stimulating. It’s literally all around us and affects our cultural worlds in a huge way. Take a look at the mobile phone which you may be reading this on or is sat next to you on your desk – it’s extraordinary, complex and a feat of engineering that most of us rely on continuously. Technology has become a totally integrated part of our lives and will only become more so in the future. And, as our lives continue to evolve alongside technology, we cannot allow for this life-affecting technology to be designed and built without the input of half the population, and for so many talented people to miss out on the opportunity to play a key part in developing and innovating within the UK. 
To find out more about the Engineer a Better World campaign and Engineering Open House Day, visit: http://www.engineer-a-better-world.org/.

Filling the STEM gap with the Micro:bit

As more and more jobs centre around digital technology, and the 'internet of things' becomes less of a buzzword and more of a reality, the pressure is growing for the education system to ensure the next generation of employees are prepared for the developing demands of the workplace.

We blogged about 'Technology, the frenemy of tomorrow's workforce' back in November 2014, but in the last few weeks, one of our clients has been involved in a project to 3D print a steel bridge over one of Amsterdam’s famous canals using robots and Autodesk software. The software is a project in itself.

The project will see the robots working autonomously on-site in much the same way as human construction workers, with the aim being to demonstrate the applicability of the technology to larger structural projects. If successful, the project could radically transform the face of the construction industry, with robots becoming a regular feature on future building sites.

The software used to run the robots is just one example of how the future of making things is dependent on people having the necessary STEM skills to lead these innovations. This reminded us again of how important it is for generation Y to be engaged in technology in both a creative and stimulating way.

In June of this year, Cisco CEO and life science graduate Phil Smith told the Telegraph, "The internet of everything is going to change the world. We'll have pills that can monitor how the body is absorbing them and cars that know when it is going to rain. We'll see a sweep of digitisation throughout every aspect of life, which means that if you know how technology works you're going to find it much easier to understand almost any industry in the future."

There has been much in the media about how the UK education system is failing to encourage its students to engage with STEM subjects, and thus hindering not only their future employability but also the UK's ability to compete on a global stage. Thankfully, there have been a few projects initiated by corporations recently, such as Barclays' Code Playground, and 'Make it Digital', the latest idea from the BBC which will see pocket-sized computers called Micro:bits provided to millions of UK students aged between the ages of 11 and 12.

This is the BBC's most ambitious education initiative since the 1980s, when the BBC Micro introduced children to computing for the very first time, some of which have gone on to be pioneers of programming. Take, for example, David Darling, who started coding games at home on the Micro and now runs Kwalee, a smartphone game developer. Another, David Braben, co-developed Elite, a space trading computer game which has now evolved into the highly popular Elite: Dangerous. David Braben is also co-founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a charity founded in 2009 to promote basic computer science in schools.

In much the same way, the BBC Micro:bit will enable today’s students to code, customise and control, spark their creativity and allow them to bring their digital ideas to life. Students will be able to create something that gives instant gratification, whilst the computer has the potential to handle much greater complexity if students wish to develop their skills further.  Head of BBC Learning, Sinead Rocks explained in May, "There's no real way to tell you what it does - because that will be entirely dependent on how the children who get one choose to program it."

With a wide variety of features such as 25 red LEDs, an on-board motion detector, and Bluetooth Smart Technology, the Micro:bit is able to interact with its surroundings, such as phones, tablets, and cameras. It can be programmed from a computer, tablet or mobile phone via the BBC's soon-to-launch Micro:bit website.

Other tools in the Make It Digital scheme include the Technobabble "digital maker kit" which allows children to create their own computer games. The Make It Digital tour will also run throughout the summer, visiting 13 locations across the UK and providing opportunities to learn more about the digital world and coding.

We're excited to see how the Micro:bit and the Make it Digital initiative from the BBC will encourage the digital geniuses of the future, and hope the pocket-sized device lands in the hands of the next Justin Mateen (the inventor of Tinder), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) or Leah Busque (TaskRabbit).

The STEM of Gender Bias

We all know how to make small talk. Granted, the exact nature of the way we communicate might vary depending on formalities, but whether you’re at a wedding, family celebration or simply out for a night on the tiles, the same question will be asked of all of us at some point. We know it’s coming…


Who says that girls need to stick to a plan?
"What do you do for a living?"
"What’s your job?"
"Where do you work?"

Having recently landed my first proper job at an agency, I was eager to finally be able to say, “I work in PR.”  What I didn’t really think about was the inevitable follow up, “What kind?”

As soon as I explained that I work in the technical PR industry - working with clients that design products for all kinds of industries from water distribution to food manufacture - the look on my acquaintance’s face started to shift. In under five seconds, I’d gone from the most glamorous and interesting person in the room, to the girl who works in PR for sewerage systems.

I was warned by my Account Director that this might happen, who after decades in this sector has experienced the ‘job-off’ (my new term for this shaming occurrence) numerous times. Therefore, I was ready to explain how important the technology industries actually are, from the widely familiar telecommunications and mobile companies, right down to the power networks that distribute our electricity. To put it simply, without technology our daily lives would grind to a halt.

And, just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I’m only suitable for a role in beauty or lifestyle PR...

I enjoy my job

At Armitage Communications I learn new facts every day such as how things work, what the future might look like if current trends continue and what needs to change in order for the UK to survive in the global market. Take the latest report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology, for example.  It highlights the big six industries which are likely to have a large impact on the UK’s economy, but only if certain steps are taken to make the most of this significant opportunity.

The big six are New Power Networks, Space, Cyber Security, 3D Printing, Food Security and Robotics. All of these industries have a similar problem of needing more engineers with the right skill set. We have already blogged about how schools should teach lessons to prepare students for the technical roles of the future, so it is interesting that the IET has also highlighted this problem. Thankfully, we are starting to see signs of improvement with competitions such as the FIRST LEGO League (FLL®) taking place across the UK.

There’s still a long way to go, however, and another significant issue that the IET rightly emphasised was the need for diversity within the engineering workforce, especially in terms of gender. The Women’s Engineering Society states that only 7% of the engineering workforce are female, and we believe that one reason behind this is our heavily gender-biased toy industry. Kira Cochrane of The Guardian aptly describes  it as ‘rigid spheres of pink and blue’.

The square root of sex segregation


Colour continues to be used to differentiate gender

Toys that are marketed to little girls include baby dolls, Barbie, My Little Pony, tea sets and princess dresses and not much else, preparing them for a life of domesticity, motherhood and a preoccupation with appearance. This is the 21st century though and women have a choice – they can work, be mums, go to university, all at the same time if they so desire. They can also choose to become engineers, scientists or technology specialists.

But toys don’t seem to encourage this, and when you consider that gender identity occurs between the ages of around three and five years old, it would seem that a change in this market is called for - to rectify the long-lasting impression that girls should be girls, and boys should be boys. Whatever that means.

The aforementioned Lego group might be encouraging young children to solve real world problems with the help of technology, but their recent plight to sell more Lego to girls in the form of Lego Friends has been the crutch of many jokes about gender bias in the media. The Heartlake Hair Salon, Puppy Training and Bunny and Babies sets all scream gender stereotyping, and a disregard of Lego instructions resulting in a robot is one way to express how little girls actually want to play with female astronaut, pirate and scientist pieces. Girls don’t need pink to want to build.

It’s refreshing then to hear about movements such as ‘Let Toys Be Toys’ and games being sold such as Goldieblox and Roominate. These both involve construction and the development of STEM skills through hands-on problem solving and are aimed primarily at girls. Both use a wide range of colours in their products and, in the words of Goldieblox CEO Debbie Sterling, ‘aim to disrupt the pink aisle.’

A working example

In fact, at Armitage Communications, a lot of what we do revolves around the technology sector. With such gender-biased attitudes common, you may be surprised to learn that there are three female staff engaged in the daily production of technical and engineering-focused materials for our clients. Whether you’re a man or a woman, tech is a graspable subject. Plenty more would realise this if the education sector and toy companies alike banded together to encourage STEM skills, regardless of whether children are called Barbie or Ken.

Do you have what it takes to work in tech PR?

Calling all tech-minded ladies and gentlemen. We are currently looking for a Junior Account Executive with a talent for creative writing and a natural curiosity for learning and explaining how things work.

If this sounds like you then email claire.shore@armitage-comms.co.uk and attach your C.V along with 200 words about how you’d convince someone who just gave you the 'job-off' that Tech PR is actually a fascinating, mentally-stimulating and up-to-the minute industry.

Image 1 Credit: 'It was supposed to be a juice bar' by fickle
Image 2 Credit: 'Pink & blue lego' by Janet McKnight