Who wants to be an engineer?

28 August 2013
Big Bang Fair 2013

Big Bang Fair 2013 – the UK’s largest celebration for young people of engineering, technology, science and maths.

How can we show the excitement of engineering? Three million new engineering jobs are expected in Britain by 2020, yet recent research by Engineering UK found only 20 per cent of 12 to 16-year-olds could say what it is that engineers do.

IET chief executive and secretary Nigel Fine, in evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into engineering skills, demonstrated the diversity of careers and the many ways to qualify, including vocational routes and apprenticeships. He emphasised the need for greater public understanding of engineering, adding: “Careers advice in the UK is very poor.”

One form of encouragement has been to fund students – the IET, for example, has invested over £2m in its Diamond Jubilee Scholarships fund.

There are signs that awareness of the profession is growing. Engineering is gaining noticeably more and better radio and TV coverage. This year’s launch of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering brought the profession welcome visibility in the Press, on social media and in blogs. The IET’s president, Professor Andy Hopper, was enthusiastic: “Most importantly to me, this prize is about showing off the best of the best and reminding society that world-changing innovations are so often born inside the minds of engineers…My hope is that this prize will, in the years ahead, become one of the most revered and respected prizes in the world.” Said one commentator: “If the award encourages youngsters to study engineering, it is worth its weight in gold!”

Another welcome development has been Big Bang – the UK’s largest celebration for young people of engineering, technology, science and maths. It shows seven to 19-year-olds the exciting and rewarding opportunities awaiting them. This massive annual fair moves around Britain and, through regional and local events, works with industrial, academic, professional, commercial and government bodies to give a flavour of engineering and science. The 2013 fair attracted over 65,000 visitors. The organisers claimed many were amazed at just how exciting engineering can be. The show is about more than thrills. At its heart, Big Bang presents careers and futures, highlighting the exciting contributions young people can make to both society and the economy.

STEMNET (the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network), a government-funded charity, is another exciting venture, encouraging the development of science and engineering-related subjects in schools, colleges and (eventually) work. Its chief aim is to interest primary-school children in technical subjects leading them eventually to choose science A-levels and scientific careers. It supports after-school clubs.

STEMNET contract holders also assist Engineering Your Future, a series of careers events co-ordinated and sponsored jointly by the IET and the civil and mechanical engineering institutions. The aim: a fun, but practical, day working with different types of engineers to discover what engineering is all about.

Virtually every aspect of life is influenced by engineering. Let’s ensure the message gets across before 2020.

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