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Social media helps engineers inspire

Inspiring or embarrassing? That’s the big question being asked among those who’ve watched ICE London’s bold attempt at going viral on YouTube this week.

The clip sees an astonishingly dapper Sir John Armitt and dozens more engineers young and old mimicking Pharrell William’s “Happy” video.

It’s a calculated bid to thrust the joy of an engineering career into the minds of young people across the country through a medium they know and trust.

Not seen it yet? Make sure you do. It’s certainly eye-catching. And it’s provoking strong reactions on social media. Many love it, but plenty more hate it.

As one commenter on YouTube says: “IKB [Isambard Kingdom Brunel] would turn in his grave. What a sad day that professional engineers have to resort to such embarrassing measures to promote itself (sic).” When I asked via Twitter this was a popularly-held view, someone promptly responded: “any young people being negative?” Touché.

Certainly the ICE’s graduates and students love it. So there may well be a generational thing here.

Personally (as someone neither that young nor that old) I think it’s a great effort. A proper, professionally-organised attempt at getting engineering into the mainstream media - an area where we have consistently strived - and failed - to make an impact. It is this failure that is (rightly or wrongly) the most frequently cited reason for the lack of respect and recognition afforded the engineering profession. So it is one to try and address.

And the video is good because it’s in your face, and assertive. In its own way it’s quite aggressive; certainly a more aggressive approach to marketing engineering than we are used to.

There is a second engineering YouTube clip making waves this week. This one has Peter Brett Associates senior environmental consultant James Heptonstall racing a London Underground Circle Line train on foot from Mansion House to Cannon Street.

It’s a real engineering success story. As Heptonstall tells us this week, months of planning for the stunt involved scouring the internet for information on the depths of Tube stations, distances between stations and accessibility in order to calculate the most viable option. Everything was planned to the finest detail and a full risk assessment carried out to ensure he could run flat out all the way without worrying about traffic. Definitely inspiring; definitely not embarrassing.

So while one video blatantly seeks to show how engineers can indeed be fun-loving humans (an important message), the other more subtly shows an engineer using engineering ingenuity to accomplish a seemingly impossible task (also an important message).

So who wins? Or as Lord Sugar would say if this were a challenge for his apprentices (has this been a challenge? If not, why not? - it’s a good one), let’s get down to the numbers. Over to Nick and Karen. Have either gone viral? As NCE went to press on Monday 18,000 people had viewed the ICE’s”Engineering Happiness” effort. Pretty good, you’ll agree. But an incredible 4M had viewed James Heptonstall’s “Race the Tube” .

We have a clear victor then. But actually I think both are winners in their own ways. What we need is more of them - so come on - get your thinking caps on.

  • Mark Hansford is NCE’s editor

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