Letter: Fear of litigation has killed teaching of practical engineering

I have read with interest the articles and letters which have appeared in The Engineer over the past few years bemoaning the decline in young people’s interest in engineering as a career. Many theories have emerged, from low pay to negative public image, and while some are true, many are exaggerated. In much of this […]

I have read with interest the articles and letters which have appeared in The Engineer over the past few years bemoaning the decline in young people’s interest in engineering as a career. Many theories have emerged, from low pay to negative public image, and while some are true, many are exaggerated.

In much of this discussion a fundamental point has been missed, and this centres around the rapid decline in the practical application of woodworking and metalworking skills in secondary school. Many schools no longer have workshops and those that do are restricted to the use of hand tools.

This starting point for many prospective young engineers is now defined as craft or technology and is in the main theory-based, with little practical use of tools or machinery. A respected local teacher recently informed me that it was at least 10 years since any student had used the milling machine in his school workshop and the lathe was for sale.

It appears that the decline in the use of machinery in school workshops is based on the fear of prosecution should any pupil sustain an injury, however slight. In our litigation-crazed society I can, to some extent, sympathise with this position.

Surely, though, it is not beyond the powers of today’s army of experts to devise safe ways of working so that students will be able to operate machinery and learn at an early age the joy and satisfaction that comes from making something for themselves.

Although I do not believe that all our engineers necessarily need to know how to operate a lathe or milling machine, I am sure that many students would be encouraged to consider engineering as a career if they enjoyed some aspect of practical work during their schooldays.

David Beere, Distrupol Compounds, Wolverhampton

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