STEM: the key to combatting engineering’s image problem

One of the ongoing issues for the engineering industry is the problem of attracting talent to the sector.

The government believes that if we want the UK to remain a world leader in research and technology we will need a future generation that is passionate about the so-called STEM topics, namely Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  It’s STEMNET initiative has been set-up to inspire young people to take an interest in these areas through after-school clubs, school advisors and visiting ‘STEM ambassadors’.

There is also the challenge of attracting more women to the world of engineering with figures suggesting only around 6% of engineers are female.

Why engineering has this image problem is a bit of a mystery. By its very nature, it is concerned with pushing the boundaries and there is always something new to learn. Maybe, one way to publicise what an exciting sector engineering is, is to highlight specific examples where it has had a major impact on technology and society as a whole.

For example, take the humble car, which today, thanks to on-going engineering improvements, is far from humble.  Cars have come such along way in a century because of a huge investment in development and engineering expertise that has focused on refining them and then refining them further.

Today you will find incredible levels of luxury, performance and efficiency in a run-of-the-mill, everyday family car. While once upon a time the automotive industry was the preserve of the mechanical engineer, it has over time incorporated electrical engineering, electronics and software engineering of the highest calibre.

And this onward march towards ever-growing levels of sophistication continues.

In recent years we have seen more and more intelligence embedded in our road vehicles.  A family member has just bought a Skoda Superb that parallel parks itself at the mere push of a button while a work colleague has invested in a new mid-range Golf that comes with a radar that provides feed-back to control the cruise level.  Apparently, his car will not need servicing for 3 years – not even an oil change.  Compare this to my 08-plate Golf that requires an oil change every 10,000 miles.  I was told yesterday by a Peugeot driver that his car does not even have a means of by which the engine oil can be checked or topped-up!  We already now have the cars that don’t users to maintain them but the latest innovations seem to be around developing cars that don’t even need drivers.  Apparently there are a already a few driverless cars making their merry way around Silicon Valley in California.

It seems the days of a handy chap or lass (if we want more women to consider engineering we must avoid the stereotypes) fiddling with their car at the weekends and carrying a toolkit in the boot just in case of a break-down are long gone. While a few years ago all you needed to tweak the mixture a little was a screwdriver and a good ear, today you need a laptop, an RS232 interface and some diagnostic software.

The story of the evolution of the car can be retold many times over in different areas – from the history of how planes or trains have developed to the monumental improvements seen in computer systems and electronics in recent times. They underline the importance of collaborative engineering and concurrent engineering where different engineering disciplines have come together on a project to produce the best technology and products possible.

These are exciting stories, tales of our time and told properly they can’t fail to excite and inspire young people of either gender.

Warley Design offers mechanical design, engineering and product development services to a broad range of industries. If you’ve got a project we can help you with please contact us.


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