• Time to Hang up the Hard Hat

    Following-like-sheep counting hard hats May 2013

    The 2014 Hard Hat Index (HHI), published by Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMF), shows nearly 20% increase in the number of hard hats featured in a cross-section of key engineering publications. Last year’s Hard Hat Index monitored the same publications and recorded 185 hard hat images (118 advertisements and 67 editorials), compared to the latest HHI figure of 229 (86 advertisements and 143 editorials). While the number of hard hats appearing in advertising has declined, the number appearing in editorial has more than doubled, even though the publications have autonomy over the images used to illustrate stories.

    SMF created the Hard Hat Index to demonstrate how pervasive of use of hard hat images are in influential media. The hard hat has become symbolic of engineers yet it projects an inaccurate and limited scope of engineering professions. This limiting profile of engineers has far-reaching effects on employers’ ability to inspire, recruit and retain engineering graduates because many do not relate to hard hat jobs.

    Speaking at the SMF Annual Dinner, which is attended by senior business men and women with combined engineering and business qualifications and skills, President, David Falzani said: “Much like the whimsical Big Mac Index published by the Economist, the Hard Hat Index makes a serious point. The engineering community has long complained of a shortfall and a lack of understanding amongst the public of the value engineering creates.
    “Over the last two years we have had a series of discussions with over 20 HR directors to better understand the decisions and routes leading to board of director appointments. One of the questions often raised is ‘why are engineers always portrayed by people wearing hard hats?’
    “It’s a fair question. How do you visually portray engineering? A profession so diverse it encompasses bridges, aircraft, medical devices, and materials? How do you visually depict software? And above all, how do you convey the status and prestige of the profession, whilst holding true to 300 years of heritage?

    “The image of engineering has never been so important. Generation Y is far more image and brand conscious than any before. The image of engineering is important because it has the ability to attract, inspire, recruit and, crucially, retain bright young engineers.
    “The Hard Hat Index is therefore designed to highlight how our industry is representing itself. It is disappointing to see that despite the question of the engineering brand being debated in the engineering media over the last 18 months, the hard hat representation in editorial is on the increase. This begs the question whether our industry is open to reinvention in order to persuade the public that engineering is an exciting, dynamic and rewarding profession.”


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