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

News editor

A number of initiatives illustrating the variety of roles filled by engineers demonstrates that outside perceptions of the discipline continue to be wide of the mark

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Its overall aim is to change perceptions of engineering among young people, their parents and teachers by challenging outdated negative perceptions about engineering careers, particularly amongst women, and demonstrate the relevance of engineering to young people’s everyday lives.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