The UK Neighbourhood Engineers Programme, which sees professional engineers visit local schools to assist teachers with technology-related lessons, should be seen as an essential part of every engineer’s experience, believes its organiser, the Engineering Council.
So far, 8,500 professional engineers have signed up for the scheme. Their school visits provide technical help and invaluable experience of applying academic subject matter in the workplace.
`Neighbourhood engineers also assist with history and geography where there is a science element to it,’ says Howard Cherry, senior executive of the programme. `There’s no point teaching about a spinning jenny, for example, if you cannot demonstrate what it is.’
Cherry has a missionary zeal for the programme and admits to frustration that its budget is limited to £0.5m. The source of his drive is a desire to increase respect for engineering. A key message of the programme, he says, is that engineers improve the world.
`The scheme aims to give those who would never consider a career in engineering a higher knowledge and respect for the discipline,’ he adds.
Neighbourhood engineers are unpaid and visit schools during their normal working hours. Cherry says employers are increasingly allowing staff to do this, because they recognise the importance of finding the next generation of engineers and see the value in their staff being part of the programme. `More and more are releasing staff because of the advantages to their continuing professional development,’ says Cherry.
The programme carries out a raft of promotional work to attract more participants. Neighbourhood engineers commit themselves to the scheme for a minimum of three years, but could only be called on to work as little as one day per year.
The level of commitment is decided by the local area team. Basic training on procedures for dealing with children is also given before the first school visit.