Farnborough kicks off with £1.1bn announcement

News editor

Today marks the start of the Farnborough International Airshow, the biennial aviation festival where the Prime Minister is expected to detail £1.1bn of new defence spending later today.

Writing in the Telegraph this morning, David Cameron explained that the funds found from cuts and savings elsewhere will go towards items including surveillance drones, new radar for the Typhoon jets, and cyber security measures. The majority of the money – £800m – will be spent on intelligence and surveillance equipment designed to identify international terror threats.

Those hoping to see the first flight of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter above UK soil today will be disappointed, as the US Department of Defense has yet to provide clearance for the visit. However the Farnborough organisers are hoping the jet will make an appearance before the end of the week.

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There’s also been controversy over the attendance of the Russian contingent to at the show: although many Russian delegates were refused visas by the government, the show has also drawn criticism for allowing state-owned firm Rosoboronexport, which has supplied equipment to the Syrian government, to exhibit.

Hopefully, this won’t overshadow the airshow’s other role this week of trying to inspire the next generation of aerospace and defence engineers.

Futures Day (taking place on Friday) aims to give young people aged between 11 and 21 an opportunity to see how a career in the sector can really – pardon the pun – take off if they pursue STEM subjects.

The brief video below will tell you a lot more about the concept than a deluge of hastily assembled words, so please take a look – it runs for just a little over one minute – and then rejoin Briefing for the depressingly familiar caveats that accompany this type of story.

Elsewhere this week, engineering skills will once again loom large as a new poll from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers suggests that schools are failing the next generation of engineers because they’re receiving poor careers advice from teachers who allegedly lack understanding of business and industry.

In the poll of 2,030 people,  42 per cent took a dim view of careers advice and guidance in Britain’s secondary schools, 26 per cent said it is adequate and a lowly 10 per cent deemed careers advice as ‘good’. Just over half (57 per cent) thought teachers should undertake two-week work placements to improve their understanding of different career options.

According to IMechE, these results come as the Institution launches a new Teacher Industrial Partners’ Scheme (TIPS), which will see Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) teachers being offered two-week work placements within industry to help them better explain the highly diverse career opportunities to their students.

To digress…back in the 1980s, a so-called careers adviser told me that a love of books qualified me as a librarian. What this fop couldn’t be bothered to realize was that of the eight subjects taken at O Level, only three were from the arts and humanities. Seems careers advice in schools is as shoddy now as it was 30 years ago but there are a handful of public figures trying to redress the balance.

Engineering graduate Carol Vorderman (pictured below) was in STEM ambassadorial mode last week at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire where she launched a drive to boost the number of young people studying for a career in engineering.

Carol Vorderman at RIAT

She’s linked up with BAE Systems to encourage young people to look at STEM subjects in science, technology, engineering and mathematics as a career choice.

Vorderman used the event to meet up with a local schoolchildren and espouse the opportunities that can arise from following a path in STEM.

In a statement, the TV personality said: ‘You only have to look around you to realise what can be achieved by engineering, whether it is the cars we drive, the gadgets we use or the homes we live in, they are all products of engineering.

‘I believe it is so important that we continue to push STEM subjects with young people. We need to act today to ensure we get the engineers of tomorrow.’

To emphasise the point, The Royal Academy of Engineering’s report on ‘Jobs and Growth’ forecasts that, between 2012 and 2020, the UK economy will require 830,000 professional scientists, engineers and technologists, which amounts to over 100,000 new professionals each year.