Age limits in IOM3 activities

14 Mar 2019


One of the things I am particularly interested in here at IOM3 is to help improve the diversity of people entering engineering and staying there. I firmly believe this is good for the profession and for wider society; different perspectives add value, and the wider the talent pool the better. 

For IOM3, delivering on this means finding the right kind of support for different groups, based on what they say and what the evidence shows they need. Unsurprisingly, therefore, this often requires different kinds of support for different people. So, whilst the support younger people want may well overlap with the support that “early career” graduates want, it doesn’t necessarily mean that each group needs the same. IOM3 can be proud of the support it has offered younger members so far; but that doesn’t mean it should end there. For example, mature students can bring huge value to their academic cohorts and their studies and can go on to make significant contributions to the profession because of their different experiences and perspectives. The Institute remains more than happy to work with people in the category of “early career” to look at how we can provide more support for them, irrespective of age and I would encourage those members who consider themselves to be in this grouping to get in touch if they have ideas they wish to pursue.

However, we do not think there is currently a sound definition of “early career” that works across all our communities. Some of our members will have first and higher degrees, some will have A-levels and technical or vocational qualifications, some will have completed an apprenticeship (which is not necessarily a qualification). Some will have worked before gaining their qualifications, some will not. Some will work in academia, some in industry. We therefore need a measure of “early career” that encompasses all these and other routes, and I encourage those interested in this matter to come forward with their suggestions on a workable definition. We will incorporate your proposed approach on a definition (full time equivalent years since a formal qualification) into our thinking.

Discrimination legislation allows age limits in several circumstances and we are clear that the existing 2 situation is within the law. See for example the guidance document on the Government Equalities Office website (PDF). However, that does not mean that in all cases we wish to retain the current situation as I set out below. There are four specific points raised, and I will address each in turn.


There are currently three Institute awards with a specific age limit - the Silver Medal (‘normally under 35’), the Frank Fitzgerald Medal and Travel Award (‘under 35’) and the Rosenhain Medal and Prize (‘under the age of 40’) – and one targeted at “young” people (the Rowbotham Medal). Until we have an agreed and workable definition of “early career”, we propose to retain this soft limit for the Silver Medal, but we will make it clearer in the guidance that it does allow those who are older to apply where they have had career breaks or other sound reasons. For the Frank Fitzgerald, Rosenhain and Rowbotham Medals, we will discuss with the respective communities to apply a similar approach.

Young Persons’ Lecture Competition

This was set up to encourage and support younger people (under 28) to develop their presentation skills, because this was identified as a particular need. The argument for this existing with a focus on people with limited life experience is strong. That doesn’t mean I think those in “early career” don’t have support needs, just that they are not necessarily the same. It would be manifestly unfair in a public speaking competition to pit someone who worked for several years before switching to an academic pathway against someone with no such experience, but the same lapsed time since a certain qualification, for example.

The Institute therefore does not have any plans to remove the age limit for this specific competition. We would of course be happy to look at this at something broadly equivalent for “early career” members, if work with them showed this was a priority for them and if funding for it could be found.

Younger Members’ Committee

We have been asked for the Committee to change the word “Younger”. The Committee has discussed this at length and at this time does not wish to do this. This is mainly because the Committee members felt it important to continue to reflect the primary purpose of the Committee – to represent the interests of the younger members of the Institute irrespective of career stage – in its title. Given the strength of view of the Committee’s members, I do not see how taking this support away would be beneficial for the Institute or its members. However, as with the lecture competition, I would be very happy to work with “early career” members to create a similar committee for them if there is the demand.

Bursaries and Grants

Generally, the age restrictions on some of our bursaries and grants will stem from the original conditions when the money was donated to us or the bursary established. I agree that these restrictions are anachronistic, so I am very happy to reiterate my previous commitment. Where the original conditions allow us to do so or where we can alter them, we will either remove these requirements entirely or replace with some kind of “early career” definition or focus. This will in some cases take some time to deliver, though, for example where we may need the approval of the Charity Commission to vary a trust document. 

Addressing the diversity gap in engineering is something to which I can assure all our members I am personally extremely committed. 

If you would like to get in touch to discuss this, please contact