Inspiring tomorrow’s engineers today

November was a landmark month for the promotion of engineering to young people, writes Paul Jackson.

Tomorrow’s Engineers Week earlier this month saw institutions, employers and educators involved in some fantastic activities taking place across the UK. Companies and organisations such Thames Tideway, Richer Education, IET, ICE and WISE have all helped shine a spotlight on engineering careers in a way that many young people, particularly girls, may never have considered before.

To mark the week, we worked with visitor attractions nationwide such as Madame Tussauds, London Zoo, Clifton Suspension Bridge and the National Space Centre to develop worksheets showing engineering in unusual places and highlighting how it plays its part in their everyday work. Visitors were able to find out that the roof of the London Zoo Tiger Territory is made of a superlightweight stainless steel mesh and that Apollo’s fuel cells can create water for the crew to drink as well as generating electricity.

Leading up to Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, we were delighted to once again bring a slice of The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair to the House of Commons at the annual Big Bang @ Parliament event, hosted together with the parliamentary and scientific committee. 

It was good to see the chairs of the education and science and technology select committees there together with a host of politicians, policy-makers and companies including BAE Systems and JCB, discussing the importance of getting young people into STEM and developing the right skills for future economic health. We also welcomed some of this year’s young Big Bang Competition finalists to showcase their impressive projects, demonstrating just how talented the UK’s future scientists and engineers are. Hearing from competition alumni Sarah Sobka, now a second year medical student and Kia and Sky Ballantyne, whose Crikey Bikey product has gone from strength to strength, showed just what an impactful and transformative opportunity The Big Bang provides.

November also saw the third anniversary of the Perkins Review, which looked at the need to equip people with the right STEM skills in order to compete in the global race. The report kicked off lots of different work streams, focusing not just on sending out leaflets, but really involving people. Through EngineeringUK’s initiatives together we reached over 400,000 young people and 48% of all UK secondary schools last year. The young people that have taken part in Big Bang and Tomorrow’s Engineers agree that a ‘career in engineering is desirable’ to a much larger extent than the national average, showing that the profile for engineering careers is getting stronger.

Public attitudes to engineering really have changed dramatically over the past five years, demonstrated clearly by a new EngineeringUK survey revealing that 65% of the UK population are able to name which engineering development in the last 50 years have had the most impact on their lives. Unsurprisingly, the internet came out top, with developments in computers following closely after. This is a massive improvement since 2010, when the same question could only be answered by 38%.

Whilst Tomorrow’s Engineers Week is a single point in the calendar, Tomorrow’s Engineers takes place all year round, so please get in touch if you would like to help build the talent pipeline of the future.

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Paul Jackson is the chief executive of EngineeringUK.