Engineering is a creative calling with a global dimension that provides a challenge and has a social purpose, so it requires some of the world’s most talented minds, writes BP’s global HR director Helmut Schuster.
When you think about engineering, ‘emotional intelligence’ (EQ) may not spring to mind. But so much of the world is built and shaped by engineers that the profession is actually a profoundly social calling. It transforms ideas and concepts into creative reality through the application of science and mathematics.
Some label these outputs as ‘technology’, but it is quite simply the fabric of our existence in the developed world. EQ is essentially a personal and collective understanding of how individuals and communities experience everyday life and how well we interact with each other as citizens.
As we make the transition to a lower-carbon future, the STEM skills essential for our future sustainability are in scarce supply”
The world of work is changing
The world of work is at a critical juncture as we enter the fourth industrial revolution. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are sweeping away roles that can be delivered at greater speed, reliability and lower cost (or made safer) through automation.
In the energy industry, this could take the form of drones and remote-operated submarines to inspect and monitor operations around the clock in all types of environments, a task previously carried out by humans. It could be the use of app-based systems to pay for car fuel, or digital ride-sharing in autonomous vehicles.
To succeed in this new age, we need engineers and technologists who can work with the power of AI and automation to create outcomes that enhance how everyone in society lives and contributes. And that requires an empathy with all fellow citizens.
A dual challenge
At BP, we believe we are already leaders in STEM, both in the application of STEM in our industry and in how we develop the next generation of talent.
But our imperative is broader than that – to be seen and recognised as such by young people around the world. To do so, we continually need to address the twin questions of how we attract and develop diverse and inclusive leaders who are fluent in our application of STEM, and scientists, engineers and technologists who are both emotionally intelligent and commercially adept. Never has this been more important.
The world has its own dual challenge – producing sufficient energy to meet the growing demand as countries’ economies grow and increase prosperity for their citizens, while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions to protect our shared planet.
Access to energy has the potential to bring unparalleled benefits to society, particularly when planned inclusively. Collectively, we need some of the world’s most talented minds to continue to develop solutions that tackle the dual challenge, and for that we need a rich diversity of talent – diverse by gender, ethnicity, physical and mental abilities – and to value that diversity and what it brings to society.
We want to empower and enthuse teachers, enabling them to make broad and informed choices in terms of the approaches they take to educating their pupils around careers options”
As we make the transition to a lower-carbon future, the STEM skills essential for our future sustainability are in scarce supply.
Our engagement with schools, communities, families and teachers has an important role to play in helping to maintain and grow the talent needed for our shared future.
We know from research that this engagement needs to start from primary school and be sustained over many years.
First, we want young people to value and choose STEM subjects at each transition point (particularly at age 14, 16 and 18), enabling them to access rewarding, well-paid and sustainable careers beyond school.
Second, we want to empower and enthuse teachers, enabling them to make broad and informed choices in terms of the approaches they take to educating their pupils around careers options, with thoughtful regard to diversity and inclusion.
Third, we want society to value the contribution of business in general, so we ensure that our education work is open, transparent and trustworthy.
Cultural fluency and empathy
Although the STEM skills gap is well documented, it is really an engineering skills gap in terms of absolute numbers of roles to be filled each year, and the shockingly wide gender and ethnic gaps entering the engineering profession.
However, we know from studies and experience that when engineering is presented as having a global dimension, and particularly with a human purpose that addresses real societal need, those gaps simply drop away. But this is where the pernicious stereotypes around engineering do not help.
We are tackling those directly with young people through partnerships such as This is Engineering (a campaign to bring engineering to life, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering in collaboration with Engineering UK and a range of business partners, including BP) and the government’s Year of Engineering 2018 campaign, providing them with the opportunity to see modern engineering first-hand.
In addition, we have funded ground-breaking academic research at University College London that has produced an effective teaching approach requiring no changes to curriculum or resources: the Science Capital Teaching Approach localises and personalises how each young person relates to STEM teaching.
This has proven benefits in improving aspiration and likelihood to choose a STEM career across gender and ethnicity. The ideas for the approach were co-developed and trialled over four years by Enterprising Science researchers and 43 secondary science teachers in England.
Our shared future relies on helping the next generation of engineers gain global awareness”
International partnerships such as the BP Global STEM Academies with AFS Intercultural Programs and the One Young World global youth sustainability leadership accelerator provide essential opportunities for young people to increase cultural fluency and empathy through experiencing different cultures and building networks, while tackling some of the world’s most pressing issues.
Our shared future relies on helping the next generation of engineers gain global awareness, so emotional intelligence – with increasing diversity and inclusivity – is vital.
Read more from BP: Claire Madden, process engineer
Read Claire’s story
Further reading: What is the Science Capital Teaching Approach?
To help more and more diverse students engage with science, the
Science Capital Teaching Approach builds on good teaching and involves
making small tweaks to existing practice, to re-orientate science lessons
in ways that can better connect with the reality of students’ lives
and experiences. Click for further information.