The Paul Jackson column
The annual Big Bang Fair seeks to bridge the gap between what young people are taught at school and an exciting future in engineering
If among the extensive coverage around the EU referendum last month you also found yourself reading about how to rebuild society from scratch after a zombie attack, you’ll understand what I mean when I say sometimes you have to go to extreme lengths to get people’s attention. This is certainly the case when looking for fresh ways to draw the media’s attention to the importance of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills. And it is an indication of how seeing things from a new or different angle can change your perception.
That is the challenge we face when showcasing engineering careers. Many young people (as well as their parents and teachers) don’t make the mental leap between what is being learnt at school and how those principles are used in 21st century engineering. The annual Big Bang Fair, which takes place at the NEC this month, is there to make that link; to help build the talent of the future. How do you know what will spark someone’s imagination? You don’t and that’s why, in contrast to a trade fair where you are hoping to attract future customers, everyone there is hoping something they offer will inspire another young person to think differently about a career in STEM.
Around 70,000 visitors will try out hundreds of attention-grabbing activities, including DJ robots, wind-power challenges and virtual reality. Shows will present the science and maths in special effects, the quantum mechanics of chocolate and we’ll even be testing out the formula for scoring the perfect goal. Young people will have the opportunity to talk to professionals about their work and careers advisers about their own futures.
Professionals from a huge range of companies will share their stories, expertise and enthusiasm. Many of them are apprentices or recent graduates, people still early in their career that the young visitors can relate to. In fact, in the case of National Grid and Tata, it’s their newest recruits who have designed some of the interactive activities they’re showcasing; and one of the members of staff on the JCB stand first made contact with the company while competing at the fair in 2012.
Once again, the fair will host the national finals of the competition that will crown the UK Young Engineer and Young Scientist of the Year. For the students behind the competing 200 projects, reaching the finals is a huge achievement and for some it will be the first step on the road to a very rewarding career.
Linking learning with real career opportunities is the key to changing the choices of the next generation. Inspiring more young people to continue studying maths and science is the first step to more skilled workers in the industry. This understanding is behind the many efforts to share positive messages and engaging examples from the world of engineering.
This month, there is much focus on the fair but it is just one part of a year-round effort to change perceptions and change lives. If yours is not one of the UK companies represented at The Big Bang Fair you can still help build a future where we can draw on bright young talent to shape our industry. Together, we can show more young people how varied and rewarding our industry is to get them thinking about their role in it.
Chief executive, EngineeringUK