Prime time for change

3 min read

Jason Ford, news editor

The latest Secret Engineer column unleashed a barrage of comments agreeing with the author’s assertion that TV programmes about engineering aren’t as good as they used to be.

BBC 2’s The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway, which chronicles the construction of Crossrail in London, drew criticism for dramatising elements of the project that would have been planned months in advance, and for overreacting to moments in the project when ad hoc problem solving was required.

Secret Engineer correctly asserts that the delivery and unloading of pre-fabricated structures on a Sunday was done precisely because it would’ve been the most convenient to time to have done so.

Things simply don’t happen in isolation on any project, let alone one as meticulously planned at the £15bn Crossrail project, and the public shouldn’t be duped in believing otherwise.

Programme makers in the 1970 and ‘80s didn’t need artificial melodrama to keep viewers’ attention on shows like Tomorrow’s World or The Great Egg Race because ‘programme makers had the confidence to know that such cheap tricks weren’t needed to keep the viewer enthralled by a technically complex story so long as it was told well.’

Big ticket projects like Crossrail will always make fascinating viewing for myriad reasons, not least because they are immense in scale and still being built when the camera crews turn up. Whether this should be exploited to provide a more visceral representation of the project is open to debate, particularly when addressing a non-engineering audience.

The fact remains, however, that TV shows about engineering tend toward to larger, more exciting projects that are often multi-disciplinary in nature with outcomes leading to a significant structure, be it a new railway line, bridge or jet aircraft. Whether mainstream TV audiences would be as enthralled about significant, life changing engineering developments at the micro and nanoscale remain to be seen, but engineering and its representation in the media will be discussed in a broader context this evening at UCL.

‘How Can Engineering Be Better Represented In The Media?’ is co-sponsored by the Association of British Science Writers and will see panelists discuss a number of issues related to what is perceived as the poor representation of engineers in the media.

According to the event organisers, this ‘contributes to the shortage of young engineering talent coming through the UK system’, which everyone reading this knows is nothing short of calamitous when talk invariably turns to engineering skills shortages.

This well-documented subject is often discussed on these pages, particularly in relation to the under representation of women in STEM-related careers, an issue that will be addressed at this year’s International Women in Engineering Day on Friday 23 June, 2017.

As its name suggests, INWED is an awareness day that organisers at the Women’s Engineering Society say ‘focuses attention on the amazing careers in engineering and technical roles for girls, and allows us to celebrate the achievements of our outstanding women engineers.’

Numerous events to mark the occasion include Ford Motor Company opening up its Dunton Technical Centre, in Basildon to 70 female pupils from schools in the local area ‘to participate in a day of activities geared to help inspire more young women to consider engineering as a career.’

According to Ford, the event will include speeches from Steve Gill, director of Powertrain Engineering and Josephine Payne, Engine Production manager, plus an opportunity to participate in a Q&A panel discussion with female engineers, and activities that involve rapid manufacturing, lean manufacturing and IT programming.

It is, of course, highly likely that the company you work for is trying to help redress the balance, be it through open days or encouraging employees to become STEM Ambassadors.

A more direct approach could involve supporting projects being undertaken by students at your local university or higher education establishment, such as those engineering students at the University of Edinburgh who need help with a project being carried out in Cambodia that involves the use of film media to help tell a story.

Daphne Cronin told The Engineer that she is part of a team of from the university with Engineering4Change that is travelling to Cambodia with Community First to complete an aquaponics closed loop sustainable plant and fish culture project.

Cronin added that the main aim of this project is to combat the 40 per cent infant malnutrition rate and ‘empower women and children in local communities’.

In an email, Cronin said: ‘A crucial element of this project is raising awareness on a global scale of this largely forgotten nation and its children in order to raise more funds to support this project.

‘We want to be able to film our experience setting up this aquaponics system in a rural village outside of Siem Reap working in partnership with the women and children.’

The big sticking point is a lack of purchasing power for a Phantom 3 Professional Drone or a Go Pro Karma drone.

As Cronin points out, recording in this way could help to show young engineers - especially girls - how ‘engineering can be a tool for social change and how to get more involved in creating solutions for a better future.’

Follow the link if you think you can help.