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The week ahead: Never mind the title, feel the breadth

Compiling The Engineer’s Women in Engineering supplement bought with it many welcome revelations and a smattering of depressingly familiar comments, particularly when it came to enthusing youngsters about the profession.

For Roma Agrawal, an associate structural engineer at engineering and design consultancy WSP, the answer is simple: ‘I think there’s a very clear lack of understanding in the UK of what the term engineer means. It’s a very vague and loose term, its used to describe the person that repairs our washing machine, repairs our photocopier and then the person that designs the Shard.

‘People misunderstand what the word means and therefore wouldn’t aspire to be an engineer.

‘We need to communicate better to young girls and young boys that engineering is something that affects our day to day life and that it is very, very rewarding as a result.’

Industry and the government’s department of business and innovation and skills (BIS) have striven to redress these issues, as seen in October with the ongoing See Inside Manufacturing scheme that was delivered in partnership with industry.

Today marks the start of Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, an initiative led by the Royal Academy of Engineering and EngineeringUK that aims to reach out to youngsters and give them the opportunity to see and understand the full breadth of engineering disciplines and sectors that engineers are active in.

The Royal Academy of Engineering, BIS, major engineering employers and the professional engineering institutions will deliver the week long series of events and activities aimed at encouraging more young people to embark into a career in engineering.

Its overall aim is to change perceptions of engineering among young people, their parents and teachers by challenging outdated negative perceptions about engineering careers, particularly amongst women, and demonstrate the relevance of engineering to young people’s everyday lives. Full details about Tomorrow’s Engineers can be found here.

To coincide with Tomorrow’s Engineers, Prof John Perkins, the government’s chief scientific adviser for business, has published a report that makes 22 recommendations to boost Britain’s engineering industry. These include new vocational qualifications, stronger links between industry and education, and more help for professionals returning to the industry after a career break.

In today’s Guardian business secretary Vince Cable has warned also that a lack of women pursuing STEM careers will add to predicted shortfalls in the workforce, an issue addressed in great depth in The Engineer’s Women in Engineering supplement, which is published today.

In light of Prof Perkins’ review the government today announced:

  • up to £30m in funding in the new year for employers to bid for to address engineering skills shortages in sectors with specific needs
  • an £18m investment in a new elite training facility at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry. This is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, which works with companies from start-ups to the likes of Rolls Royce in developing innovation and next generation technology
  • £250,000 of seed funding to enable Tomorrow’s Engineers to accelerate the nationwide rollout of its employer engagement programme aimed at encouraging children in school to consider engineering careers
  • £40,000 to support the Daphne Jackson Trust to develop a new fellowship to support people returning to professional engineering jobs after a career break
  • a portal on the National Careers Service website matching businesses that want to promote engineering careers in schools with organisations who can deliver educational outreach activity.

One event linked with Tomorrow’s Engineers takes place in London this Wednesday with over 30 MPs joining apprentices from Airbus, BAE Systems and Selex ES to take part in a rocket launching competition to mark the 2014 UK Aerospace Youth Rocketry Challenge.

MPs will assemble and launch an air pressure powered rocket as far as possible with the assistance of the apprentices.

Today sees a full-scale model of the Bloodhound SuperSonic Car (SSC) and Bath University’s Formula Student racing car being put on display at BIS HQ. Secretary of state Vince Cable, and BIS ministers Lord Younger, Jo Swinson and David Willetts will be meeting the teams involved in both projects during the day.

Low carbon technology and the medical world are two of the myriad of sectors open to engineers and both are seeking solutions to pressing issues, as the following will illustrate.

Shell, for example, has reminded us the deadline for its ninth Shell Springboard competition is December 13.

The competition gives winners a cash boost to take their innovations further forward and each year Shell awards £330,000 to innovative and commercially viable business ideas that aim to reduce carbon emissions.

Last year’s winner, Vantage Power, was awarded £40,000 for its hybrid powertrain technology which can be retrofitted to double-decker buses across the UK. The company’s hybrid system offers a cost efficient way to reduce fuel consumption by £20,000 a year and help buses operating in stop-start traffic in towns cut emissions by 40 per cent.

In October 2012 Shell’s Graham van’t Hoff explained to The Engineer how the Springboard competition can help in commercialising low carbon technology that often seeks to address problems in a fresh, innovative way. Click here to read more.

In the medical space, the British Association of Urological Surgeons say that  as many as three million people suffer from urinary incontinence in the UK.

Around 60 to 80 per cent of these patients have not sought medical advice for their condition and a further 35 per cent view it simply as part of the ageing process.

Alan Cottenden, Professor of Incontinence Technology in UCL’s Department of Medical Physics and Bioengineering believes that for many people the condition still remains a taboo subject, a situation that he is keen to rectify.

Cottenden is also chairman of IMechE’s organising committee and this week the organisation hosts a two day seminar programme that will do just that.

Taking place tomorrow and Wednesday, Incontinence: The Engineering Challenge IX brings together engineers, scientists and medical professionals to debate groundbreaking technologies aimed at helping people with incontinence.

The two-day seminar will discuss how engineering is helping develop future treatments for a condition which more than one-in-three women - and almost as many men - will suffer from.

As well as lectures featuring the very latest research and thinking, experts from outside the incontinence world will present technologies with the potential to revolutionise current practice.

In December 2011 The Engineer reported on ‘smart underwear’ that alerts wearers with a vibration or text message when their incontinence protection is leaking.

Under development at Brunel and Manchester universities, the underwear contains embedded circuits made of conductive thread to detect liquid and alert the user via a signalling device. Click here to read more.

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee will this week continue its investigations into the viability of the shale gas and oil industry.

Tomorrow, representatives from Cuadrilla, IGas Energy and INEOS will give evidence on the scope for commercial shale gas extraction and use in the UK, which areas of the UK are most likely to produce shale gas, and when production might start. 

The session will also cover possible safety risks associated with fracking and what the companies intend to do to minimise these risks.

Last week Public Health England published a report that downplayed risks to the public through exposure to shale emissions provided operators follow strict guidelines. Click here to read more.

Finally,  the first scheduled vessel to arrive at London Gateway for unloading is due to dock in the early hours of November 7.

The arrival of the MOL Caledon marks the beginning of ongoing operations at the site, which is the UK’s first modern major deep-sea container port and Europe’s largest logistics park..

Readers' comments (13)

  • This may seem trivial but in the UK, the soaps on TV, like Corrie, actually do a fair amount to discourage the young toward having hobbies which often lead on to an interest in engineering and send the wrong message to their parents.
    Whenever a young soap character takes up an interesting technical hobby that might actually lead to a, say a career in real life such as, say, model airplanes or chemistry, then it ends only in disaster!
    Young Jonny gets a passion for chemistry. It explodes and their house burns down!
    Young Jonny gets interested in electronics. It explodes and their house burns down!
    Young Jonny gets an interest in how things work. He takes apart the vacuum cleaner, puts it back together. It explodes and their house burns down!
    Young Jonny gets a passion for model planes. It crashes into the pub, explodes and most of the street burns down!

    Message to kids and parents? Hobbies lead only to disaster so it's better to set your sights low, on never leaving your street and working in the local cafe or pub burger-flipping or pulling pints.

    Who here didn't start being interested in how things work, in whatever field, as a kid?

    And we wonder why there are so few 'engineers'?

    Take the issue to the TV producers and drama writers guild! Politicians ultimately follow society... they don't lead it.
    TV does that job!

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  • waste of time when BG in their adverts boldly declare that there boiler repair people are boiler engineers...sort that and all the equivalents and you sort the problem of attracting kids to be engineers

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  • The title 'Engineer' should be legally protected as are 'Solicitor' or 'Doctor.' To be Chartered or Incorporated now requires a M.Eng or B.Eng and several years of significant engineering experience. This is en par with the legal and medical professions. I agree with Phil Durrant, the man who cleans or fits your boiler is a Gas Safe registered fitter, not an Engineer!

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  • Are you, the reader, doing anything to encourage young people to take up Engineering?
    Two of my Grandchildren are now graduates and employees in Engineering.
    A third has graduated in Neuroscience and doing research - she earns more than her brother in Engineering.
    I'm told that some of my Grandchildren's fellow engineering students have taken jobs in the "city" at considerably higher salaries.
    Maybe salaries need to be higher to attract people into the profession.
    Sent anonymously to avoid embarrassing my Grandchildren !

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  • We should celebrate everyone who embraces engineering, not denigrate them. Designing, making, maintaining and repair are all important stages in the product cycle. Some hold chartered or another registered grade, many are trade qualified but ALL are necessary. We should be pleased that so many people choose to describe themselves as engineers and that the wider public recognise them as such. Signed, a Fellow of two Chartered Institutions.

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  • The dental nurse is indispensable, but I would still rather it was the Dental Surgeon who drilled my teeth.

    Until we can agree the defining characteristics of an Engineer, we are on a hiding to nothing. Carter's Taxonomy is a good starting point, with progression from knowledge and understanding at an early stage of formation (NQF2), to increasing synthesis and analysis through the technical and professional levels (NQF3-6).

    The jobs I did as a workman are distinct from those I perform as an engineer (and Fellow of a nominated body - unnecessary and an affectation perhaps?). I admire tool makers and blacksmiths, I enjoy working with them, and they take sufficient pride in their craft, without seeking spurious dignity.

    Clearly, to attract entrants in competition with structured professions, we must offer definition and competitive advantages.

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  • It may have been mentioned before, but David Parry's comments brought home the relationship between "fun" and "risk" in science and engineering.
    The things that curious children want to do are usually either dangerous or illegal. Those same skills that are required to make a bridge over a stream, a home-made firework, a go-kart or an electric-shock machine, are the same skills that are required to be a professional engineer.

    In a culture of zero risk in childhood, have we perhaps also made engineering as "boring" as a modern chemistry set?

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  • Nick is correct. Even computer simulations have to be understood in the context of experience, and school curricula have moved too far from the hands on approach previously adopted in metalwork, and practical physics to give students a "feel" for materials, or respect for manufacture.

    The best physics teacher I ever had at school bought an old engine, covered in oil, into our form room. He left it with two spanners, having told us to see how far we could get in dismantling it. I cannot imagine that now, any teacher would take that risk. Also at that time, we were playing with model IC aero engines, using ether based fuels. We would run these at school, and the [nurse] would patch up the cut hands that resulted.

    When I started university teaching, I was able to use practical examples, usualy taken from motor vehicles, as illustrations of theoretical principles and concepts. Sadly, since about 1996, not only has this approach been impossible, but students come without innate innate feeling for materials or dynamics. Few students tinker with cars, and I can no longer illustrate EMI in the context of a vehicle ignition systems. Lack of subjective "feeling" impedes design.

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  • One improvement could be under advertising standards where any engineering activity of person would be expected to state if they were a prefessionally registered with the Engineering Council (or not), so that J Blogs and Sons (unregistered) Ltd. would be the new way to keep customers informed.

    Likewise work could be performed by a registered engineer (cagegory), or supervisd by a registered engineer.

    This would not require existing "engineers" to think up a new name, just be more open about their qualification and competence.

    The medics distinguish between their various categories. I see no reason for the public not to expect engineers to also distinguish between their categories of work.

    That said, in a post industrial age, many engineers will have their vocation passed down from parent to child, just as commonly happens in agriculture and farming.

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  • Can we say that Engineering is like love for a fellow being... if you have doubts then you are not!?

    Nick's "culture of zero risk" in society, above, will lead to the subjugating of us all.

    Daft as it might seem watching a young person "pick up a ball and run with it" is one of life's major high points.

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