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Why We Need to Champion Diversity and Inclusion in the Engineering Sector

Interview with Craig Orrock, winner of the Engineering Student of the Year and Overall Excellence in Engineering Awards

This year’s Engineering Talent Awards (ETAs) shone a spotlight on the importance of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) in the engineering sector, leading the way for others to follow.

Hosted by EqualEngineers, partnered with McLaren Racing, and headlined by SSE, the ETAs welcomed some of the most inspiring individuals from across the engineering sector and celebrated their contributions to ED&I. There are 12 award categories overall, which range from apprentice of the year to large employer of the year. And an overall excellence in engineering award is given to one of the 12 winners.

This year’s overall winner was Craig Orrock, who won the Engineering Student of the Year ETA. He is deaf, a Charity Trustee and Treasurer of UKSEDS, and a diversity champion who advocates captioning in all aspects of life.

We caught up with Craig a few weeks after his win to talk about why he cleaned up at the ETAs and what changes he wants to see in the engineering industry.

Read the full interview below.

You can learn all about our winners and nominees here.

What was your introduction to EqualEngineers and the ETAs?

Dr. Emma Taylor, my engineering mentor, first introduced me to EqualEngineers when she nominated me for an ETA award. Winning the student of the year award, let alone the overall winner, was a shock. There was a serious amount of competition! So, being picked was a great feeling.

In terms of EqualEngineers, I had no idea about the work they did before my nomination and immediately wanted to learn more. I’m just one person and EqualEngineers provides a platform that’s sorely needed to enact change. So, now I’m looking at getting involved. For example, helping to host working groups and develop training courses that look at ways to bridge some of the gaps in the industry – especially when it comes to disability representation. Sadly, it’s an underappreciated aspect of ED&I because it’s often invisible. People wouldn’t know I was deaf without my cochlear implants unless they talked to me.

Tell us more about why you were shortlisted

I’m currently a mechanical engineer at Heriot-Watt University and I study propulsion engineering in my own time. I’ve helped develop a prototype liquid rocket engine [holds up 3D prototype]. This one won’t be going anywhere but it’ll help us learn more about rockets and how they should operate.

Apart from designing rocket engines and collaborating with other students, I’m part of the executive committee at UKSEDS (UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space) and oversee all the money! We’re a non-profit run exclusively by students in our spare time. We put on events, host conferences, workshops, careers events, and try to get big names in the space sector to come and talk to students. The last time we ran our national event, it had 500 attendees. However, we also run a smaller event called DISC, which celebrates diversity and inclusion in the space sector. It also invites diverse speakers to talk about their experiences.

What are your plans for your future?

When I graduate, I want to be a propulsion engineer and work for a rocket company. There are already 7 spaceports in the UK that people don’t really know about. For example, a rocket is being launched from the UK into orbit next year! So, the dream is to work for one of those companies and help develop rocket hardware.

Glasgow is actually the busiest place in Europe in terms of demand for all these spaceports. Lots of companies are popping up to meet the demand for CubeSats. These small satellites are making the space industry more accessible due to the reduced financial barrier. Where building satellites used to cost hundreds of thousands or millions [of pounds], now university students can build them for tens of thousands, which makes space more accessible for everyone.

What does ED&I mean to you?

It’s a broad spectrum. People often associate ED&I with ethnic minorities, but it’s such a gigantic umbrella term. A lot of people don’t appreciate the scope involved. Companies will often pick a category and assume they’ve met their ED&I targets without realising how much more there is to it.

What’s sad is that no matter how much companies try to improve their image, discrimination is still happening. A study we’re undertaking at UKSEDS is investigating the disconnect between those studying highly skilled space courses and those going on to get jobs in the space sector post-graduation. There’s a huge discrepancy that shows graduates are getting jobs in other sectors, and the report suggests it’s happening because of prejudice and discrimination, which proves there’s still a long way to go [to embed diversity and inclusion].

If you could change one thing about the current industry, what would it be?

I’d like to see more opportunities for students to work on bigger projects. When you study, you only get a small amount of time to work on the projects. A lot of it is due to limited funding, which means students miss out. However, employers aren’t just looking for people who can pass hard tests. They want to find people who can design, conceptualise, and build projects. So, with a more hands-on approach during university, I think the career options once you graduate will improve.

Alongside this, as mentioned, I want to challenge the lack of diversity and inclusion in the space sector.

Conclusion

Were you as inspired by Craig as we are? Then you’re already on board with EqualEngineers’ mission to make the engineering industry more diverse and inclusive. Craig’s story highlights the importance of advocacy around accessibility in engineering and technology, and platforms like the ETA awards offer a chance to not only celebrate ED&I but champion those leading the charge.

If you want to get involved, why not become a sponsor for ETA 2022? Alternatively, do you want to sponsor someone in your industry for an award? 

Get in touch to learn more.

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