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At this year’s ART in Industry consortium, EIIL members and industry association representatives met to discuss the topic of attracting and retaining talent in industry. One of the issues raised was the age-old problem of image. Industry in the wider media is seen as useful, certainly. It is innovative for the most part, and it may even be interesting. “Industry just isn’t sexy,” said one participant. So, how do we deal with the problem of not sexy?

Particularly among members of Generation C, the overwhelming view of industry isn’t all that attractive. The issue with this view is that industry is doing sexy things all the time, everywhere. EIIL partner Air Liquide recently increased its biogas purification capacity in Europe, allowing it to provide triple the amount of non-fossil based fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In its Solar Impulse initiative another EIIL partner, Covestro, has flown a solar powered plane around the world to demonstrate the viability of clean energy.  Projects of this kind are not only important, they are undoubtedly sexy.

Part of the solution comes from EIIL member CB&I. “In the US, the National Society of Professional Engineers have celebrated Engineer’s Week in the last week of February every year since 1951,” said Michael Erades, Director Engineering for CB&I The Hague. “The celebration has two purposes, to emphasise the importance of learning STEM skills throughout education, and to focus a national spotlight on the contributions engineers have made to society.

This year, CB&I decided to follow their example and celebrate Engineer’s Week themselves. “We wanted to highlight the outstanding engineers in the local office,” continued Erades. “Throughout the week we displayed pictures of a group of engineers selected by the management on TV screens on every floor of the office.” The pictures were also shown on their internal website to increase exposure in other offices. At the end of the week the chosen outstanding engineers were awarded with trophies and certificates during a team lunch session.

In the spirit of Engineer’s Week, CB&I also ran an elevator pitch contest. The event aimed to demonstrate and celebrate the in-house talent and creativity that exists within the organisation. After the enthusiastic response these activities garnered it was decided that Engineer’s Week would become an annual event at CB&I.

These events are exactly what the industry needs, but they need to happen on a wide scale. The true challenge industry faces is communicating projects like these to a wider audience. Crucially this audience has to comprise people who aren’t already members of industry. That may seem counter-intuitive, but industry professionals are there because they want to be. They already think industry is interesting.

The people that need to be targeted are those to whom industry is an impenetrable monolithic institution. They see industry as an area of steam and grease and dangerous chemicals that offers no easy path in for those not already interested painterly.ie. Part of this comes from good communication, but it has to come from the education system. “STEM subjects must be presented in a way that broadens their appeal,” said Nathalie Debuyst, communication and education manager at the EPCA. “This will come from demonstrating that they are useful, innovative and interesting, but most importantly that they can be sexy.”

EIIL partner Plastics Europe estimates that by 2050 there will be more tonnes of plastic in the sea than tonnes of fish. If you ask us, that’s not sexy. Solving that problem, however, is.