Webinar: approaches to educating engineering workforce of the future

In view of the current climate (COVID-19), this is definitely the webinar era!!! We have felt the excitement pulsing through the presentations and question/answer sessions in today’s event. Participants were highly motivated, engaged and willing to grow their knowledge and understanding of the discussed issues. This is why today Northern Crucible are at the forefront of helping local industry to get the information they need and exchange good practice and innovation.

Webinar is in action

Educationalists and industry experts exchanged best practices, gained latest insights and developed their professional networks. Centred around the theme of approaches to educating engineers of the future, the main question of the night was how we could align manufacturing, teaching and training to the needs of modern industrial practice. We brought together representatives from schools (6th form), colleges, universities as well as such flagship manufacturers, as Rolls-Royce, AMRC, Boeing and Forgemasters to ensure the breadth and the depth of the debate and offer a comprehensive review the new offerings and explore opportunities in adequate training provision for the modern workforce, capable to tackle the greatest engineering challenges of the modern world.

The webinar was organised in the chronological order of educational stages, starting from schools/6th forms, progressing though to independent career development.

The evening opened with a presentation from Marie Cooper, trustee of Get Up To Speed. Marie is a director of three engineering companies in the northern region of the UK. As a Sheffield Cutler, Marie is a champion of education in engineering. Marie explained about the programme and how it was geared to engage school children and young adults with engineering by giving them cool demonstrations of some cutting edge engineering pieces and projects.

Wendy Trout, careers and enterprise coordinator, Sheffield City Region.  Wendy talked about her role to inspire young people for the fast changing world of work and how they linked schools and colleges to employers. Wendy has invited industry to join in the effort to engage with schools by providing educational site visits and mock interviews.

James Godsell, business development manager, RNN Group. James discussed the colleges’ engagement with the new standards for apprenticeships. James’ presentation initiated some positive feedback from the audience about various paths young adults could take in choosing their careers. James also specified that Level 2 apprenticeship was still very much available to students at RNN.

Dr. Gary Wood, head of Sheffield Engineering Leadership Academy (SELA) University of Sheffield. Gary shared his thoughts on importance of practical industry engagement for university students. Gary outlined his vision of how such engagement could be achieved. He also raised some thought-provoking points on why engineering was not often the first choice for school leavers. As part of SELA section of the night, Armand Keyworth, a SELA student, has asked for manufacturers’ assistance to complete a survey about ways data is collected, stored and used in manufacturing in the Sheffield City Region. If you are a manufacturing business, please consider completing a short survey here.

Gavin Hill, project manager, AMRC (Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre). Gavin gave an overview of the AMRC, offering opportunities for cutting edge manufacturing research. Gavin also shared valuable insights into how engineering was often misconceived as dirty and grimy and how these misconceptions were stopping people choosing engineering for their careers. To follow on from Gavin’s talk, Cristian Gheres, a PhD student at AMRC, has asked to submit his research findings discussing barriers to engagement of SMEs with Industry 4.0 in the region. The citation and as the downloadable file is below.

  • C. Gheres, T. Morley and C. Brooks (2020, March). Diffusing Industry 4.0: understanding barriers in digitalisation of manufacturing SMEs. Paper submitted to Northern Crucible, Sheffield.
Rolls-Royce Small Modular Reactor

The keynote speaker of the night was David Orr, Senior Vice President at Rolls-Royce Nuclear (small modular reactors). David gave an outstanding presentation of the SMR facility in Derby. We were taken through the inspiring and truly futuristic engineering project that would shape the modern world of clean nuclear energy. David raised one highly important point of the UK loosing its leading position of ownership of home-grown Intellectual Property of major engineering projects to aggressive imports. David has emphasised that while pure science and pure research has its own place, without a solid commercial foundation, we are in danger of becoming thought-leaders, which on its own doesn’t create or sustain many jobs. Government commitment to British research, linked to major manufacturing projects, as well as raising British highly-qualified and commercially aware engineers could address this worry.

There were overarching themes voiced by various participants during the meeting that spilled into an open forum at the end of the event. One of the main ongoing discussions was the low number of women in engineering. Participants discussed various reasons for this, possibly stemming from expectations formed in early childhood that are difficult to change in older years.

Indigo dreams
Inspiration to reach for the stars starts early.

Another subject raised repeatedly was factors that stopped people choosing engineering for their profession. It is possible that the choices are formed in early childhood and we, as a society, do not introduce children to the world of engineering early enough. While Science, as part of the National Curriculum, is taught in primary schools, it is not often directly related to engineering. Where some insight into engineering is given, it is often seen as an “exciting special activity” and is optional. This could be due to various factors, one of them being lack of time in day-to-day teaching. Another contributing factor could be the overwhelming majority of teaching staff in primary education coming from Arts and Humanities backgrounds, 95% in 2017 (The Baroness Brown of Cambridge DBE FREng FRS , (2017, November ). Educating engineers: where do we start and what do we want? In A. Nortcliffe (chair). Engineering Education Research Network – 5th annual symposium). This is a big problem because we can deliver numerous interventions, but teachers are not then equipped to build on what we’ve done. Our work therefore, however, exciting, is quickly forgotten because teachers don’t know how to link it to their teaching of the National Curriculum. This sentiment of not introducing children to the practical and engineering sides of Maths and Science is also is agreement with David Orr’s concerning comment of producing excellent theorists that without practical applicability of their knowledge are in danger of being unable to sustain large projects commercially.

A separate, but an acutely relevant point was raised by one of the apprentices from the audience is that an apprenticeship route into career development is often overlooked in schools in favour of the 6th form pathway. He shared his experience of almost leaping into the unknown, taking a risk of choosing engineering for his profession. While he is glad he’s made this choice, he explained that it was a scary time. Participants agreed that before the end of Year 11 or Year 13, schools and colleges need to work closer together to offer taster sessions for their students to try different subjects and ways of learning. It is also important to make apprentices aware that they can progress in their apprenticeship to a degree level of education.

Finally, the overall theme was felt that while the industry wants to welcome highly qualified engineers to supercharge their businesses for success, they need to engage with the training providers more by opening their doors with training projects, work experiences, mentoring, exhibitions or other engagement events to motivate and stimulate interest.

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