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Perception filter

Ask a child to define ‘engineer’ and you’ll likely be told that an engineer is everything from the man who fixes the boiler to a bearded eccentric gesticulating wildly in a laboratory.

These definitions of ‘engineer’ were offered to Stephen Burgin, Alstom UK Country President and Head of Alstom Power (UK) on a visit to a school.

What our young friends don’t seem to appreciate is that the mobile ‘phone in their pocket, the games console in the bedroom or the personal computer - arguably the most liberating post-war machine ever made, given the right software and an internet connection - are all products of engineering ingenuity.

It would appear that anyone attempting to bridge this huge knowledge gap has quite a tricky job on their hands.

However, the editorial team at The Engineer has yet to come across individuals or organisations that don’t relish a challenge and starting this week are a series of events that, on one hand, will attempt to engage youngsters with engineering and on the other will offer insights into the opportunities afforded by space technology transfer and the challenges presented by planning high-speed rail.

Kicking off in Manchester on March 11 is ‘The Big Bang: UK Young Scientists’ and Engineers’ Fair’.

The three day Fair, which is now in its second year, is geared toward 9 to 19 year olds and has the support of industry giants such as Astra Zeneca, BAE Systems, Siemens and Shell.

Workshops include ‘The Journey of a Fuel Rod – The Nuclear Fuel Cycle’, where students will learn about the different stages of the nuclear fuel cycle; ‘AlphaBeat’, exploring the role that engineering plays in all aspects of modern life; and ‘So you think you can design a jet engine?’ where Rolls-Royce and Manchester University will take attendees on a virtual 3D journey through the key components of the jet engine. Young engineers from Rolls-Royce will be on hand to talk about the technologies employed in engine design.

This high profile event culminates with the National Science & Engineering Competition Awards to celebrate science and engineering engagement and achievement.

Technology Transfer is on the agenda at Space Tech 2010 - Space Technology Symposium which takes place on March 10 at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, at the
Harwell Science and Innovation Campus.

The event is geared toward industry, military, or government representatives who wish to discover the latest technologies from the space industry and make direct contact with the UK’s leading technology groups.

European space technologies are becoming increasingly available for development and licensing to the non-space industry through technology transfer and this event will provide attendees an opportunity to network and exploit these innovations developed by leading European research organizations.

Back on terra firma and news that a white paper is expected this week from the government on its plans to expand high-speed rail by 2025, adding to the existing High Speed 1 (HS1) Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

The government’s High Speed Two company has sounded out a route between London and the West Midlands, and development beyond that at the level of ’broad corridors’, considering the potential to extend to Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, the North East, and Scotland.

Plans for a terminus in London have drawn criticism from the Conservatives who have said they would build one at Heathrow Airport to deter passengers from taking domestic flights. The Conservatives also propose direct connections with HS1 at the not yet opened Stratford International station.

Under Labour plans passengers will have to change for Heathrow

Public consultation is expected to start in the autumn. If approved construction could begin in 2017, with completion due in 2025.

Readers' comments (10)

  • We all know engineers have become anonymous, but this needs to be redressed by raising the profile of engineers. We should also highlight the vast sectors of engineering instead of the term being used or applied generically.

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  • The reason why a child has difficulty to accurately define the term 'engineer' is due to the complete failure of the Council of Engineering Institutions and its constituent members to raise the profile of engineers to that of a 'profession'. After 40 years in engineering as a Chartered Engineer, I despair at the total failure to promote engineering as a profession.

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  • The majority of young people that have been introduced to what engineering involves or who have engineers in their own family have a good understanding of engineering and the broad areas it covers.

    The ability of some parts of the industry to "let them in" either through placements, visits or having their work visible through events like the Big Bang will make the difference although it could be the most interested that attend anyway.

    Engineering, whilst being influential on all of our lives tends to consist of hidden jobs in mysterious corporations or with small, specialist companies without massive marketing or engagement budgets. Show the work, let them meet the people who do the work - being presented with information by people who have either a) not worked in the industry for years or b) by a representative of an organisation set up to spread the word about engineering that does not employ working engineers may not necessarily be the way forward.

    Challenge every misrepresentation in the media and refuse to play the health and safety card when approached to take a young person for a visit or work experience and we may be getting somewhere.

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  • Richard G Icke sums the main issue up succinctly.
    As a society we have forgotten the words definition:-
    The originator or manager of a situation, system etc.
    to originate cause, or plan in a clever or devious manner.

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  • Unfortunately the term 'engineer' has been corrupted so severely, by people such as 'washing machine engineers', 'TV engineers', 'sanitary engineers' and the like to try to sound important, that we may never get the recognition that we should. The corruption has been supported by the media by showing such things as a drainage 'engineer' pressure washing a foul sewer, on a recent programme. This suggests to Joe Public that an engineer is a low form of life who works in filthy conditions. Even when my doctor asked me what my job was, and I replied that I was an engineer, his reply was along the lines of 'so you are on your feet all day'. I had to point out that I was actually responsible for the design of some of the most important aspects of our nation's defence. I don't think he understood!
    We will probably never overcome the problem without the kind of legislation that exists in France, where I believe it is illegal to call yourself an engineer unless you really ARE one. Until we are properly recognised, salaries will never approach the levels of other professions such as law, accountancy, medicine, dentistry etc. My pension is now tied to the relatively poor income I received as a Chartered Engineer and analogue specialist in a very large company.

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  • I agree with both Simon Martin and Richard Icke specifically regarding the anonymity of the term "engineer", but disagree with the fact that the profile of engineers has been lost by institutions and needs to be raised by them alone. It is a fact that current membership of these institutions is ageing rapidly, whilst new membership dwindles simply because the educational and industrial policies of subsequent governments over the past 30 years has showcased "engineering" to be an unfashionable and underpaid vocation, in favour of "service" industries.
    With engineering comes "manufacturing", a filthy environmental word which is politically ostracised as emitting massive amounts of CO2 greenhouse gases, without understanding the incredibly tight emissions contraints in which our UK manufacturers - the REAL wealth creators - have to work under.
    I am 42 and work in engineering sales. 85% of people I deal with are older than me; only 15% are younger. This is an approximation but really outlines my point that "Engineering" as a vocation in 2010 is not well subscribed. As a footnote it may be slightly better now than it was 5 years ago, but I feal for our domestic £££ multi-billion Chemical, PetroChemical and Oil & Gas industries as there ain't the skillsets coming through to sustain them as a provider of wealth for the UK going forward.
    Perhaps a direct plea by the insitutions to Government is a last ditch option? I don't see Mr. Mandleson supporting things since the demise of Corus Redcar.

    And don't talk to me about the profits of manufacturers going outside the UK; it is a fact that wealth is grown, mined or manufactured, over 5000 people earning £35,000 or more will be affected by the Corus closure, along with another 2000 people earning £15,000+; how many B&Q, ASDA and DFS stores will it take to replace that wealth? You will never replace that volume of skilled jobs before the skills are lost forever. Period. New technologies become more expensive as a result. As Homer would say; D'oh!

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  • Surely an engineer is anyone who manipulates their environment to achieve a goal.
    Whether this is digging an irrigation trench, building a bridge or making an ion drive. Which of these examples benefits mankind the most? And does it matter?
    Surely a person's value should be measured by their achievements and not by the name they call themselves.
    Millions of people rightly call themselves engineers - if you want to stand out from the crowd then you need to accomplish something.

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  • In Australia the Engineering Institution (note it is singular) has a large media campaign in progress under the catch phrase 'make it so'. They had a competition to succinctly describe engineering. The winning entry was.
    Engineering is the discipline of using I(E)NGINUITY combined with the known laws of science to design and create devices and systems that improve the overall quality of life for mankind.
    Have a look round their special site.

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  • I work for an organisation which reviews and approves designs and fabrications for many engineering sectors and employ many highly qualified individuals so you would think the term "Engineer" would be understood, but when I replied to an email which was sent out when the photocopier went on the blink that an engineer was on his way it was me that was ridiculed. I also suggested that our First Aiders could call them selves Doctors. Could you imagine the up roar if that was the case.

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  • The one that annoys me most is the fact that programmers are also called software 'engineers'. I have plenty of respect for the coding profesions but its infuriating when searching for engineering jobs to get mostly software positions. ITS AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT AREA OF EXPERTISE!

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