Engineering students reject hard hat as symbol of their industry

The yellow hard hat should not be the stereotypical symbol of the engineering profession a majority of students in the field believe.

Despite the fact that leading figures in the engineering community have called for the hard hat to be banned from promotional and educational material, it remains dominant, giving the wrong impression of the role according to Sainsbury Management Fellows' (SMF) 2016 Hard Hat Index.

The Index was compiled by tracking the number of advertisements and articles that feature hard hats in 17 engineering publications from May 2015 to April 2016.

Although this is the fourth year in a row that the data has been tracked, the use of hard hats in the engineering media is as high as the previous year's Index, with 257 images appearing in the 17 titles monitored over 12 months. This figure is the highest since the Index was launched in 2013.

SMF conducted a workshop with 70 engineering undergraduates, with the vast majority of the 30 advertisements reviewed falling into the negative category and only 20 per cent of them receiving some positive feedback.

The advertisements deemed better did not rely on stereotypical images of engineers. Adverts by Dyson and Saudi Aramco fared particularly well.

The engineering undergraduates identified a number of issues, saying many of the ads were uninspiring, did not visually communicate the reality of the jobs, perpetuated stereotypes and were often too technical or irrelevant to the job being advertised.

"Engineering professionals, institutions, and students are saying that stereotypical images of engineers need to change,” said David Falzani, president of SMF. “Our Hard Hat Index creates the opportunity for us to keep the debate alive and highlight the downsides of using inappropriate images to represent engineers."

“Generations Y and X are far more image and brand conscious than before. Image and emotional value are vital in our ability to attract, inspire, recruit and retain bright young people. This is a serious national challenge which we must all embrace."

The UK is currently suffering from an engineering skills shortage that could be exacerbated by the recent decision to leave the European Union. Portraying the industry with more modern imagery could be an important factor in reversing the decline in interest amongst students.

In October last year, an IET report claimed that more than half of organisations believe newly recruited engineers do not meet their ‘reasonable expectations’. 

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