Smart Machines & Factories
The need to Identify engineers in the making
Published:  08 October, 2019

It’s 2019 and we need more engineers - that’s a fact. To be more precise we need 124,000 engineers and technicians with core engineering skills and personnel to satisfy the 79,000 new roles created in engineering per year. That’s 203,000 people with Level 3+ engineering skills per year to meet demand through to 2024. But where will we get them from? What we need is engineers in the making.

When it comes to inspiring the next generation in all things engineering, there is no one better positioned to tell the story of how UK Plc is shaking the very core of the educational sector, than Dr Susan Scurlock, MBE.

Susan has been working tirelessly with a superb team at Primary Engineer since 2005 to engage children as young as 3 to identify their inner-engineer. She has also carefully crafted teacher training programmes that help to identify and nurture latent engineering skills. Fifteen years on she is now embarking in a more formal direction with the creation of two professional engineering institutions, recognisable in structure to the professional institutions we know and love. But, these institutions are special in a way that no one would expect. They are for Primary and Secondary School Children. The new Institutions have been welcomed by Professor John Perkins, CBE FREng, author of The Perkins Review who argued in 2013 that substantially increasing the number of engineers would help the UK economy. Primary Engineer is delivering on that promise.

Susan explains: “In May 2019 we launched two institutions – both with the specific objective of helping children and young adults to develop skills, mindsets and competences related to engineering and the wider world of work. These institutions increase pupils’ employability and broaden their career aspirations through collaboration with industry, the STEM community, and parents.”

Using an online portal, the institutions work with teachers to create, access and evaluate projects while keeping track of the skills that their school delivers. The software also provides the capability for teachers to manage pupils’ pathways to the institution’s certification processes thereby showcasing to industry and further education the pupil’s aptitude for transferrable skills which in turn will increase their employability.

Professor Perkins said at the launch: “The Institutions will provide the framework for bringing together STEM initiatives and education into a single, cohesive journey for children that will track and celebrate their progress as they move through the education system. Too often, young people’s experience of STEM related activities, either as part of the curriculum in schools, or through outreach by industry or voluntary organisations, feels patchy and a little random. The Institutions are designed to provide a coherent structure to help overcome this problem.”

With the UK facing a skills crisis across many sectors, forming a steady bedrock of professional skills formulated around engineering can only be a good thing. It is widely recognised that engineering skills are highly transferable and therefore can underpin a wide range of career paths and destinations. The importance of encouraging the next generation of engineers, data scientists, and other professions from a young age has never been more acute. Moreover, 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 project-based skills approach, including problem-finding, problem-solving, systems thinking and implementation skills.

Primary Engineer isn’t alone in its quest to inspire the next generation and shore up the continued supply of engineers across the sector. It’s partnerships with giants, like Weir Group and industry organisations like Scottish Engineering and Skills Scotland, that Susan and her team stand with shoulder to shoulder to pioneer programmes that stimulate interest in STEM. In fact the list of funders and partners is like reading the Who’s Who of the industrial sector.

The Primary Engineer Twitter account buzzes daily with photos of inventions of school children from around the UK. This year the competition has encouraged creative young minds to come up with more inspirational ideas. Some of these will be made into working prototypes by university partners. One comment on Twitter sums up the exciting and motivating programme: “From shoes that help you to learn to count, to energy efficient floating farms & underwater drones that deliver life-saving supplies. Kids come up with the BEST ideas! The UK-wide @Leadersaward showcases some of the most amazing inventions.”

Primary Engineer is an organisation with big ambitions. It started 15 years ago, by taking engineering into primary school classrooms - despite being told at the time that primary wasn’t important and that 14-19 was the age to focus on. Over the years Primary Engineer has observed many things, one of which being children like to be called an engineer! They like to find problems to solve of their own. The Leaders Award, a Primary Engineer programme, asks pupils “If you were an engineer what would you do?” In 2017/2018 over 37,000 children and young adults submitted their inventions, with many exhibited at 9 events nationally, 220 receiving top awards and 6 universities ended up making some of the best and most inspiring ideas. The gender demographic amongst entries is an almost exact 50/50 split. Now in 2019, sixteen regional events are taking place throughout the summer and over 60,000 entries to the awards have been received.

So, when it comes to looking forward twenty years to when the 5 year olds of today are ready to enter industry it’s teams like Primary Engineer and their industry partners investing in today’s children, peaking their interest in STEM and maintaining it throughout school that will help to keep the Great in Great British Engineering.

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Pic caption: Dr. Susan Scurlock, with Professor John Perkins at the launch of the Institutions of Primary and Secondary Engineers.