How this Engineering and Award-Winning Diversity Leader is Bridging the Gap for Black Professionals

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Head of Process and Safety at Optimus Plus (Aberdeen), Dr. Ollie Folayan, Ph.D., CEng, FIChemE, is a chartered process engineering consultant with a doctorate in the environmental effects of fuel combustion. For decades, his fortitude and insight have supported industry-leading companies.

His engineering career has remained on the incline, and so has his commitment to ensuring opportunities for Black professionals. He is an award-winning diversity trailblazer serving as a mentor and member of the Royal Academy of Engineering DE&I committee. He is also the co-founder of AFBE -UK (Association for Black Engineers Scotland UK). Noticing a lack of ethnic minority engineers, he took action and began developing programmes to boost education, mentoring, and awareness in his community.

“We know there are challenges people face when they are trying to get into the workforce. Everything from what your name looks like, statistically, can make a difference,” he said.

Dr. Ollie created a comprehensive approach to touch Black professionals and students at every touch point. His programmes include:

  • Next Gen: provide in-school support for students interested in engineering.
  • Transition: a career-ready program to help professionals prepare for job interviews.
  • Real Projects: connects students and new professionals to veterans who provide real-world knowledge of engineering projects. 
  • Transcend: Assist senior professional engineers in land leadership roles. 

“We’re looking at the whole process by which a person starts from when they’re young to get their first job to striving in the industry to become a leader. We have programmes that address every part of that journey.”

Our BY-Peers Aberdeen lead, Danielle Daku-Mante sat down with Dr. Ollie on behalf of BYP to discuss everything from the future of engineering to his perspective on the state of diversity in the field. 

BYP: Tell us about your journey to Aberdeen?

Dr. Ollie: I mainly worked here because there was a job opportunity with Amex. There was a lot of activity then, and my wife and I reckoned we could be up here for a few years. 

BYP: Speaking about diversity, you’re the co-founder of AFB UK. Can you tell us about the work you’re doing to diversify engineering?

Dr. Ollie: Some of my early experiences in the workplace were fantastic, and others were challenging. Back then, when it was set up in London, we had set it up primarily because we wanted a network where people could support each other, and then we tried to use that network to reach the community. When I moved up in Scotland and noticed a significant ethnic minority community, I wanted to contextualise what we had been doing in London.

BYP: What are your predictions for the future of engineering, and do you have any advice for aspiring engineers?

Dr. Ollie: The future of the sector is working on innovative ways to ensure that we operate more sustainably and environmentally friendly. That often involves using existing technology for greener purposes but also new ways of thinking. 

There are two significant trends in the industry, including the move to a low-carbon economy and all of the technology it takes to do that. And then, there is the process of increased automation, which looks at big data and all of the trends that come with that. 

My advice for anyone considering joining the industry is that engineering is there in everything we do, from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to bed. There are so many different fields. The great thing about being an engineer is that you always feel like you’re learning. Find out who you are and how you work best, and look for a path that gets you there.  

BYP: Do you have any advice or feedback for parents and students from an African, Caribbean, and/or Asian background?

Dr. Ollie: I sit with parents these days, and they’ll say, “I’d like you to mentor my son or daughter.” It’s just the amount of pathways that exist now to achieving the same things. We’re moving from a pace of just STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics), where people are starting to recognise the place of creativity and skill in the process of creating engineering solutions. I think the main thing that people need, and lots of our STEM outreach, need to include parents so that they understand these multiple pathways.

To connect with more black professionals in Aberdeen join the group here.

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