As part of International Women’s Day 2017, EEF is celebrating inspiring women in manufacturing. This includes Ruth Amos, who is not only the inventor of the acclaimed StairSteady, but has also recently launched a new YouTube channel called “Kids Invent Stuff”, with the aim of encouraging kids (ages 5-11) to develop their inventiveness and engineering skills.
Ruth Amos is a young Sheffield-based entrepreneur and the inventor of the StairSteady, an invention that helps people with limited mobility to climb stairs. Her product has been very successful since she launched it in 2008. She won the Young Engineer For Britain 2006 and was the youngest ever woman in Britain's "Heroines For Hard Times", which features 35 women under 35 by Management Today. She was also the first ever Women of the Future “YoungStar” award winner in 2009.
We spoke to Ruth on International Women’s Day:
You’re very busy with your own company ‘StairSteady’ as well as your new YouTube channel “Kids Invent Stuff”. What is your main focus these days?
My main focus these days is ‘StairSteady’, my GCSE resistant materials project, which won the Young Engineer for Britain 2006 award. We distribute nationally in the UK, as well as in Europe and we also launched the product internationally in Canada and the United States.
Kids Invent Stuff is a YouTube channel where we set monthly design challenges for children (ages between 5 and 11), who submit their ideas to help solve a problem or create something like a gadget or a robot, which my partner Shawn Brown and I then make on-camera.
This channel has been our focus since the beginning of the year. We launched our first episode in January and now we launch a new video every week. We get video or picture submissions from kids through our dedicated website KidsInventStuff.com.
What was your goal when you set out to create this channel and website?
We’ve realised that one of the key things that were instrumental in our own interest in science, technology, engineering and maths, were some of the television programmes we watched when we were kids, like Scrapheap Challenge and Robot Wars. We realised that a lot of young people now watch YouTube, so we thought it would be a really good platform to inspire them to think about inventing, being inventors and solving problems. We wanted to show to young people that if you have an idea you can have it made and it can be a lot of fun. Kids come up with the best ideas and we don’t always recognise that. But whatever age you are, whether you’re male or female, you can design and be an engineer.
Do you have many female viewers and participants on your YouTube channel?
Yes, we have quite a lot of girls who submit ideas and we have many interactions on Twitter with them and their parents, and their feedback is very positive in that respect. We’re keen to show that it doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female – you can invent.
How do you encourage more young people, and especially women, to go into engineering and manufacturing?
I think it’s a mixture of conversation and role models. I think the word “engineering” is massive and covers a whole load of different types of jobs and roles and at times it can be difficult to talk with young people about careers and what you would like to do, because everyone has different connotations. That’s why we’ve chosen the word “inventor”, I think it’s easier to explain that inventors solve problems and come up with ideas.
Do you feel the situation has improved for women in science, technology, engineering and maths?
I think it’s heading in a positive direction, but I don’t think we’re there yet and I don’t think we should be patting ourselves on the back. There is still a lot to do, but in many professions we are changing the way we view work, and women – and men – within work. A lot of the corporate system was set up when the idea was that men go to work and women stay at home. That has drastically changed and our family dynamics have changed as well. We should be encouraging more men to take paternity leave, for example. But we’re heading in the right direction.
Are there any other problems or challenges you would like to solve with engineering and innovation?
There isn’t one thing I’d like to solve. Sometimes when we’re talking about inventing or problem solving we think about really big problems, but sometimes it’s just about reusing technology in a certain way or designing something to be more efficient. I think my main challenge now is taking someone else’s idea and making it come to life. It’s a great honour that they are trusting us to make that happen and there are many small problems and challenges that we face along the way to make those ideas a reality.
How do you envision the future of manufacturing, especially the part women play in it?
I think that there are fantastic things that are happening with women in manufacturing. I’m based in Sheffield and there’s some amazing work that’s going on here. There are lots of opportunities for women to get involved in manufacturing at different levels and it is becoming more accessible. Locally, there are many more open days and discussions around what roles are available in manufacturing and it really helps to understand the options and what they could be doing. It helps when women can see other women doing those jobs and I think social media obviously helps with that.
One of the biggest issues with getting women into manufacturing, which in the past had been very male-dominated, is that parents think back to how it was in their day and worry and maybe don’t fully encourage young people. Parents’ support is quite important and it’s important that we’re have these conversations and that we show young people and parents that there are fantastic roles within manufacturing for them.