At this time of year it is not uncommon for me to get phone calls and emails from students looking for industrial placements. They come from all sources including emails and phone calls from Germany, France and Spain right through to Asia. In the past I have even received emails from young people offering to work for nothing for 9 months in order to get a foot-hold in the industry and bag that all important experience.
I also occasionally receive phone calls from parents looking to find some work experience for their offspring. These calls tend to come from families who live locally and are just looking for anything from a week to a few weeks during the holidays.
This year I provided some work experience to a year 11 student. His personal statement indicated that he had gained as much work experience as he possibly could and had tried many different roles in and around the industry, several of which could be best described as repetitive factory work. Don’t get me wrong – I think there is something to be learnt from all situations and from all people. I would consider factory work to be a highly worth-while experience and something that product designers in particular would benefit from. When he came to me he was very enthusiastic, energetic and eager to learn. I reciprocated by trying to expose him to as much “technical engineering” as I could in the hope that he would find the details exciting. I have to say that he appeared to soak it all up and I believe that he enjoyed the experience.
He recently visited me to inform me that he had been successful in achieving the grades necessary to get him his university placement of choice and to thank me for my support. In my mind there wasn’t any doubt whatsoever that he would – his approach to work experience suggested that he that he was going to throw himself in and do the very best that he could.
He reminded me in one small way of a “sandwich” student I selected when I was an IMechE mentor in a large company. After interviewing in the order of a dozen young people this particular individual stood out from the crowd because of his enthusiasm, curiosity and drive.
These young people with curiosity and drive are just what we need to take our technologies to new unchartered places. It occurs to me that we cannot teach engineering of the future as we (hopefully) don’t know what it is yet. One thing’s for certain – it should not look like the engineering of the past or we will be stuck in yester-year. Sure: STEM is critical and we still need to teach the classic engineering disciplines in order to lay solid foundations but I don’t think these attributes are enough in themselves. What we really need are technically savvy people with curiosity, creativity and vision who ask not “why” but “why not?” Such people are capable of building on those solid foundations to push our current understanding engineering to new levels.
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