Well engineered! The human side of hard work

Kate Anderson

I and my daughter, an aspiring engineer, are loving the #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign. What exactly does an engineer look like these days? Do check out the campaign, it’s fun and a great way of highlight the issues of women and the lack of them in STEM.

This week, the UK’s Network Rail are also keen we have a think about what an engineer looks like, but more importantly that we think about the fact that engineering works are indeed the work of engineers.

#ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign

I love this Network Rail ad for a whole host of reasons. We all hate engineering works especially those of us using Southern’s Brighton Mainline in the UK. For us, engineering works are the bane of our lives – overrunning engineering works frequently the cause of the many delays that this line suffers.

We hear constantly about engineering works but even though we understand that, of course an ageing railway network requires some maintenance, the term itself is alienating. What are these engineering works? Why are they needed? And where’s the benefit to me?

There have been attempts to rebrand engineering works focusing on the outcome vs the process – this resulted in the term “improvement works“. It’s a bit better but it’s rather like calling problems opportunities – a semantic change that doesn’t really change how we feel about the situation or how well we understand it and we all see through it.

So where do Network Rail go from here? The train traveller hates engineering/improvement works but they don’t hate engineers. Engineers are just honest, hard-working folk – real people with faces, names, stubble etc. and look at this one, he’s rather good looking actually and he’s forgoing a bank holiday weekend to improve things for me. And it looks like it might rain or maybe he’s working through the night while I go to a bbq. Cheers mate – rather you than me!

By showing the human side of the organisation, Network Rail ceases to be a cold, faceless megalith and starts to look of the people and for the people.

I’ve only seen this done once by Network Rail, in this customer notice on a revolving digital display at Clapham Junction station this week – it works, they should use it more. Then maybe we’d cut them all a bit more slack!