Still much to do to inspire would be engineers

Accessible cars, leaky roofs, a 3D printed phone case, show-jumping and rural road safety all caught the eye of the panel judging the engineering projects competing at The Big Bang Fair last month.

In that top five was a group of young engineers in rural Scotland who invented their own Traffic Assessment & Response System (TARS) to provide a cost-effective way of reducing the number of road traffic injuries and deaths. They developed a £150 camera that picks up speeding or unsafe drivers and can send an alert to the police and/or trigger a sign further down the road telling the driver to slow down. 

The winning project ‘David’s Wheels’ saw friends Rogan McGilp (16), Stuart Chau (17) and Ethan Dunbar Baker (15) spend three months designing and building a hot rod. Inspired by Rogan’s younger brother David, who is severely disabled, the car is fully accessible for wheelchair users. It has a lowered floor and a throttle to control movement, meaning you don't need to use your legs to operate it.

The BBC Breakfast sound engineers were given a challenge of their own when the students were featured the morning after being crowned UK Young Engineers of the Year. Hot rods are pretty noisy up close! Rogan, who says he gets his engineering talent from his mum, hopes to change people’s perceptions about what’s possible for disabled people and inspire more people to make activities and entertainment more accessible to disabled children.

His attitude reflects the general feeling of the employers, educators, presenters and volunteers, who brought science, technology, engineering and maths to life for 70,000 visitors at The Big Bang Fair. To inspire people we need to work together, challenge assumptions and think creatively. The Fair had inspiration and excitement in buckets and the message that science and maths subjects lead to great careers was evident throughout.

Those four days at the NEC hosted thousands of careers engagements as industry professionals and careers advisors worked in tandem. For some visitors this was their first conversation about a career in engineering, we want to make sure it isn’t their last. They help young people make the connection between what they learn at school and how those principles are used in the real jobs that shape their world. 

Through a recently announced award from the Careers & Enterprise Fund, which aims to bring together more young people and employers, we are now able to scale up the level of our on-the-ground support in three regions. We will use the funding to strengthen and boost our work with employers and schools in the South East and the North West and to establish regional support for engineering employers looking to reach more young people in Yorkshire and The Humber.

It is vital that our education system recognises and reflects the value employers attach to STEM skills and there needs to be greater support for teachers and careers advisors delivering careers information so that they understand the range of available career paths, including vocational/technician roles. 

Without commitment from policymakers to offer that support we are bound to fall short and we must hope that cross-party and cross-department working will lead to closer synergy between education and business. The Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy co-chaired by Iain Wright and Neil Carmichael is a good example, bringing together members from two separate committees to examine the education and skills pipeline and the impact upon business and the economy. Since its establishment late last year, the sub-committee has announced two key inquiries – one into apprenticeships, the other into careers guidance. Both are essential in addressing the skills gap in engineering and industry employers continue to make clear their views on both subjects.

This collaborative approach reflects the pan-industry support for the Tomorrow’s Engineers programme, which we expect to reach 1 million young people a year within five years. We look forward to working with even more engineering companies over the next year to give more young people the chance to discover what engineering has to offer. I hope yours will be one of them.

Paul Jackson is CEO, EngineeringUK