Dr Ollie Folayan was destined to become a chemical engineer after deciding it would be his future at nine years old.

Now Dr Folayan, chair of the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers (AFBE-UK) Scotland, is using his experience and enthusiasm to help inspire children from minority ethnic backgrounds and disadvantaged areas in and around Aberdeen to consider engineering as a career.

With an engineer father, following in his footsteps was “a natural choice” for Dr Folayan. He said: "I must have broken just about everything trying to figure out how they work when I was younger. I was definitely on the naughty step more than once."

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Growing up in Croydon as the child of Nigerian parents, Dr Folayan was aware of the challenges young people from minority backgrounds faced, with many getting caught up in local gang culture. In 2007, he and his sister, Dr Nike Folayan, also an engineer and chair of AFBE-UK, were determined to do what they could to stem that flow and set up their first educational programme, Make Engineering Hot, visiting inner-city schools and encouraging young people to consider a future in the industry.

Dr Folayan said: "We set out to present a different image for young people. Many of them didn't have any examples of people working in those sorts of jobs they could look to as an example.

"It wasn't until I got into the industry that my eyes were opened. It was then I could see there weren't that many role models of minority ethnic origin to look up to. I realised that if we wanted to go further in our careers [as black engineers] and we wanted to achieve things, we need the kind of enabling environment that would make that possible."

This lack of representation was causing the young people the siblings met to cut their ambitions short, unable to see themselves in careers they might harbour hopes of one day having, but with the help of the Folayan's programme many of the 2500 young people in London and other parts of England have gone on to study engineering and secure a career in the field.

After moving up to Aberdeen for work in 2010, Dr Folayan identified similarities between the Granite City and his hometown of London. He said: "Similarities in the sense that just like the world of finance draws people from all over the world to London, the oil and energy industry draws people from all over the world to Aberdeen so there's a notable minority ethnic community here."

AFBE-UK Scotland's NextGen programme, launched in 2015, has visited around 20 local primary schools since, with ten more scheduled this year, where members of the association have volunteered to reach more than 1000 young people.

The programme is vital for Scotland's engineering industry, says Dr Folayan. He said: "Visibility is necessary for young people coming up. There is a different experience when you are a minority in the industry and not necessarily because the industry is unwelcoming. We're all going through a process as a society of becoming more and more inclusive and accepting."

And it's not just young people from minority ethnic backgrounds who have benefited from the NextGen, but those from lower-income families and young women too.

Dr Folayan said: “Our approach as an organisation has always been try to address the diversity question not by protest, but by providing the resources that makes certain things possible.

“NextGen is communicating a message to young people who can see that there are more female engineers, there are more minorities, there are more people who've gone into the engineering industry through an apprenticeship route.”

Working together on exercises that might see pupils construct a helipad using only paper clips or make an oil and gas system using lego blocks is “exciting”, says Dr Folayan, and being able to explain the intricacies of engineering to a nine-year-old is a “real test of how much you understand your job”.

Dr Folayan, who has addressed conferences with teachers and educators on the obstacles that can prevent young people accessing science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, explains that the NextGen scheme is a supplement to the current school provision. He said: “The reason that STEM campaigns like ours exist is because It helps pupils link what they are being taught in school to the real world of work and it can be more meaningful to a child to hear what the world of work is like from a practicing engineer than from their teacher

“This is particularly true in schools in disadvantaged parts of the city … where kids miss out on opportunities to learn about the industry from people who work in it.”

Research carried out by AFB-UK Scotland has shown that in Aberdeen many people from minority backgrounds tend to live in the more deprived areas of the city.

He said: “That’s really where the under-representation comes from, the fact that if you don’t have the same level of quality of educational facilities or schools with access to the right sorts of resources and social networks of people who have already done these things then you’re less likely to get in to some of the better universities which are the main pathways into engineering.”

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AFBE-UK Scotland run another successful programme that aims to help university students and graduates into full time work through CV reviews and interview coaching.

Dr Folayan said: “If you haven’t come from a background where you have had solid role models you can be less likely to be aware of the attitudes and competencies that you need to have [to get a job].

“Then there are other factors that you can’t deny like if you have a foreign sounding name you’re less likely to get chosen when you submit your CV.”

Again, the answer lies in representation says Dr Folayan. He said: “What we’re trying to do is provide the information, provide our experience and be the example that shows you can do it, don’t get discouraged.”

HeraldScotland: Paul Sheerin estimates the industry needs a boost of 79,000 graduates Paul Sheerin estimates the industry needs a boost of 79,000 graduates


Paul Sheerin, chief executive of Scottish Engineering added:

"SECONDARY schools in Scotland do a nice job of creating the building blocks for engineering careers, with their broad-based Stem education, so if someone feels like they want to take it on, they’ll be in good shape for it.

"Interestingly, the time we really get people interested in those subjects is primary school and early years before any biases, conscious or unconscious, set in. It could be young people go home at night and hearing engineering is a dirty job, or not a job for girls or minorities, and those biases need to be offset, which is why you need these programmes to say “this is a good career”.

"Another reason programmes such as NextGen are so important is that they keep the industry buoyant in the face of a number of challenges. Scotland has little slack in the employment market, with record percentages of employment, plus the fact we didn’t train enough people from about 1980 on, when the loss of the engineering apprenticeship schools weren’t replaced.

"So we’ve got an ageing population in the industry and a dearth of people that we didn’t train between 1990 and the mid-2000s. Added to that other issues include the downturn in net migration from the EU. So with this pressure on, you need to train more people, but to train them you first have to get them interested and programmes like NextGen do that.

"Then you need to have places for them to take it up professionally. There’s an annual shortfall of 59,000 engineering graduates and technicians to fill core roles and the predicted engineering roles are expected to rise, with automation, to 79,000 per year; if you’re automating things you need people to programme them, look after them and maintain them."