Inspiring young people to take up engineering

25 July 2013

We need to inspire more young people to pursue a career in engineering. Tanya Weaver thinks that one way of doing this is for designers and engineers to work with educators in bringing STEM subjects to life

At school I was not a fan of maths. I found it difficult and dull and never saw how it could relate to a future job. Although a career advisor once told me that with my natural ability in trigonometry, I could pursue a career in architecture. But he also told me that I could be a journalist. No guesses as to which path I chose. 

At my school in South Africa, maths and science were the only technology-related subjects on offer — we didn’t have Design & Technology or Engineering.

That may be the reason why only one girl in my final year of school chose to study engineering at university.

I wonder if more of them, who had a natural aptitude and enjoyment of science and maths, would have pursued a career in engineering if they’d been made aware of the opportunities out there for them.

Also a nurturing and encouraging teacher helps. My maths teacher wasn’t the nurturing kind. 

One thing that struck me whilst putting together the article on Women in Engineering was how many female engineers said that in school they would have benefitted from having a female teacher to nurture their interest in engineering or an inspirational role model from industry that showed the diverse and exciting career options available to them if they pursued their engineering studies. 

To be honest, any child that shows an aptitude or interest in engineering should be encouraged as it’s no secret that this country is crying out for qualified engineers.

According to the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), even in the current recessionary period, employers cannot find enough future employees suitably qualified in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) to meet demand.

In a survey NFER recently conducted it found that not enough young people are currently inspired by STEM (either as an academic or career route) to pursue such choices beyond compulsory level education.

What young people need is the theory of a subject, which can often be dry and dull, brought to life in real-life industry projects so they can see for themselves where these subjects could take them in later life.

What young people need is the theory of a subject, which can often be dry and dull, brought to life in real-life industry projects

For instance, the Bloodhound SuperSonic Car (SSC) project is endeavouring to be the catalyst through which young people can acquire skills and develop talents to inspire them to pursue a STEM career.

The Bloodhound project was launched in 2006 by Richard Noble with the aim of creating a jet and rocket powered car that could break the 1,000 mph world land speed record.

Although ultimately he wants to race the car, which is due to be completed this year, the project was really conceived as an international education initiative with the primary aim of enthusing and inspiring the next generation to be interested and excited by a technology based career.

All the information about the research, design, build and testing of the car is free for teachers and students who register for the Bloodhound Education Programme. Currently 5,340 UK schools, including primaries, secondaries and special educational needs colleges, are already using Bloodhound materials in class. NFER, which carried out an independent evaluation of the programme, confirmed it has helped make engineering accessible and relevant to young people’s lives.

The positive impact of such a programme is evident in one young lady, Jess Herbert, aged 16, an engineering apprentice at Rolls-Royce.

“I first heard about the Project when I was 13 and thought it was incredibly ambitious and exciting. It really showed what engineering is all about: the challenge, the creativity, the teamwork and the problem solving. It helped me realise that this is the career path I wanted to follow. So here I am today, one of 12 Rolls-Royce apprentices, thanks to Bloodhound.”

But it’s not just teachers delivering this programme – professional designers and engineers in industry are engaging with students too.

For instance, Cambridge Design Partnership (CDP), which has been involved in a number of projects relating to the design and development of the Bloodhound SSC including the design of the steering wheel, recently held its first school workshop with GCSE pupils from Stanborough School, Hertfordshire.

The 14 pupils, aged between 13 and 14, were taken on a tour of CDP’s labs and workshops, which highlighted CAD and 3D printing of prototypes.

They were also shown the design process behind the Bloodhound SSC steering wheel, which is currently being finalised for manufacture. The workshop concluded with the pupils working in teams to plan and build a Bloodhound balloon car, which they then raced against each other.

A quote from the school’s maths teacher, Kristin Coldwell, perfectly sums up the effect that such an activity can have on students: “This has been a brilliant opportunity for our pupils to see behind the scenes at a real technology and engineering workplace. Days like this help bring science and maths to life.”

The workshop, part of a wider campaign by CDP to support STEM education, was run by Ben Crundwell, an electronic engineer who is also a STEM Ambassador.

STEM Ambassadors work on a voluntary basis on behalf of STEMNET, an independent organisation that helps create opportunities to inspire young people into STEM.

These ambassadors offer their time and support to promote STEM subjects to young people by either going to schools, events or organising their own events. So, it’s about educators and industry working together to show how STEM can lead to interesting careers.

So, I guess where I’m going with all this is to encourage you to get involved.

We need more engineers so if you have a passion for what you do or lament that you can’t find skilled workers – why not be a STEM Ambassador and help inspire a future engineer?

Here’s the link: stemnet.org.uk

Have a think about it.

 

Comments on this article:

It's not just about education but also about companies/managers/HR/engineering heads giving young people chances and the opportunity to prove themselves. Too often the lack of much experience makes many just neglect them as a potential candidate for the job. I'm only 24 myself so at least that has been my experience.

Posted by Kevin De Smet on Tuesday 30 2013 at 09:36 AM

i was attached to Garrett Morgan Academy pviriously but now am the new supervisor of School of Architecture and Construction at the JFK Educational Complex still in the district of Paterson.my membership is still in effect.i would like to have this school actively involved in NJTEA activities.

Posted by Luisinho on Wednesday 16 2015 at 05:34 PM

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