Smart Machines & Factories
Engineering in Schools: An Institutional Issue
Published:  17 May, 2019

With the UK facing a skills crisis, the importance of encouraging the next generation of engineers from a young age has never been more acute.

In an age of transformation that will have a dramatic effect on the future job market, the skills that best serve the future workforce are those which require a problem-finding and problem-solving approach. Primary Engineer is a leading proponent of projects that bring together industry, teachers and pupils throughout the UK, and engages with over 60,000 pupils, 3,000 teachers and 1500 engineers each year through its various programmes. The ambition to join together such programmes into a cohesive structure that allows students to continue to feed their enthusiasm for STEM related learning throughout their own education, is the final piece of the STEM puzzle which has led to the creation of two new Institutions.

Launching in May 2019, the Institution of Primary Engineers and The Institution of Secondary Engineers have been a long time in research and development and signal a major turning point in the continuation of STEM development throughout school, into college, university and ultimately into the world of work. They are a modern tool, based on age-old professional membership organisations which seek to support, nurture and acknowledge best practice. Too often, children who are excited by learning engineering skills are unable to pursue them consistently through their early education journey, and many able students are discouraged from further STEM study and career-paths as a result. The gaps between each phase of their education have now been bridged and will give school children an idea of what belonging to a professional body in a highly professional environment feels like.

Dr. Susan Scurlock MBE is the creator of the Primary Engineer and the originator of the two new institutions, she said: “With an open, inclusive, practical approach, the institutions can become the backbone of STEM education in the UK. Now the real work begins, and we are calling for industry and teachers to get behind them and help us make a successful platform to an exciting career that all pupils deserve.”

Engineering as a profession is central to the growth and development of civilisation. Responsible for the essentials of life, from designing and building shelter from the elements and producing food, to the design and build of transport systems and cities, engineers have long been respected and recognised for their impact on the development of, well, just about everything.

Getting this message out to budding engineers and sourcing a supply of enthusiastic students is becoming more of a challenge for industry and the shortfall in engineers working their way through the ranks has reached a critical point. As the pressure on engineers to continue to innovate grows, the void in budding engineers becomes ever more apparent. Moreover, in the age of automation, the value of the human capabilities for problem finding and resolving are more important than ever before.

The Institutions of Primary and Secondary Engineers are set to become vital components to engaging young people and keeping them engaged. By recognising a variety of projects and schemes, they can track progress and highlight a clear path to students interested in furthering their learning in a structured way. Importantly, the institutions will offer children a glimpse of the huge variety of exciting, fulfilling and meaningful careers that are available from organisations across the world that offer diverse career development to the most curios of minds Careers that have historically failed to compete for the attention and understanding of students and teachers alike for much too long.

The idea of using institutions to regulate industries has a rich and proven heritage, so extending the principle to school-children in STEM fields is a typically “engineering” approach to problem solving. It’s a clever, logical, pragmatic and ambitious use of existing means to do something better for the common good. It’s worth taking a look at that heritage in more detail.

After centuries of the introduction of various professional bodies for every trade and skill under the sun, the Engineering Council was formed in 1964 (as the Joint Council of Engineering Institutions) to ‘agree common standards for professional engineers’. Its role split in 2002 into the Engineering Technology Board (Engineering UK) and the Engineering Council. The former is now responsible for the promotion of engineering. But, this wasn’t the earliest recorded body dedicated to setting and maintaining standards (this mantle is held by the Corps of Engineers which was founded in 1717). The Institution of Civil Engineers followed 100 years later in 1818 and brought engineering to society as a whole through the development and creation of canals, bridges, lighthouses and ports. There are now 35 professional engineering institutions in the UK covering general and more specific subjects.

At each step along the way, it has been institutions which have upheld standards, proved competency and allowed engineers and engineering companies to flourish and change the world. Now, as the world enters a period of great new change in the era of industry 4.0, our future engineers will benefit from the same structure of standards and competency to allow their skills to flourish and help them to reach beyond the present limitations of human possibility to create tomorrow’s world. Just like engineers have been doing for centuries.

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