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The perception of the professional engineer needs to change, says the Royal Academy of Engineering

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Leading businesses and high-profile engineers have come together in a bid to change the online image search results for the word ‘engineer’, as an AI programme trained on the results of an online search for images of engineers found that it vastly misrepresents the profession.

The announcement comes on This is Engineering Day, part of a nationwide campaign led by the Royal Academy of Engineering and supported by a range of brands and engineering companies to change the misrepresentation of engineering online, celebrate the contribution of engineers and encourage more young people to consider a career in the profession.

To test the representation of the profession online, an AI machine-learning model, known as a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN), analysed over 1100 images of engineers sourced online, and generated images based on this given dataset. The resulting images showed how wrongly and narrowly an engineer is typically portrayed online: white male wearing a hard hat – despite the fact that engineering boasts a female workforce and hard hats are not worn in professional engineering.

The Royal Academy of Engineering has now created This Is Engineering Day, which takes place in Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, to radically change this narrow stereotype, and celebrate the varied and vital roles that engineers play, from developing medical technologies like brain scanners and clean energy solutions, to developing the social media platforms, smartphones and cars we rely on to keep in touch every day. 

“Engineers play a profoundly important role in shaping the world around us – from designing our cities and transport systems, to delivering clean energy solutions, enhancing cybersecurity and advancing healthcare – but that’s simply not reflected in online image searches,” said Dr Hayaatun Sillem, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Over 100 brands across the UK that depend on engineering – including the BBC, Facebook, ITV, Transport for London, Ocado, Rolls-Royce and National Grid – have signed a pledge to increase the public visibility of more representative images of engineers and engineering, and helped create a new library of free to use images of engineers that better represent what engineers and engineering really look like.

Many of the emerging and in-demand jobs identified by the World Economic Forum are engineering jobs, yet every year the UK is short of up to 59,000 engineers, while only 12% of the engineering workforce in the UK are female, and 9% are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Research from EngineeringUK shows that more needs to be done to raise awareness of engineering careers and encourage young people to consider the profession. Over three quarters (76%) of young people aged 11-19 and 73% of parents do not know a lot about what those working in engineering do.

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