Smart Machines & Factories
Primary schools need engineering
Published:  10 July, 2020

With schools set to return in September, now is the time to engage pupils and teachers with engineering – Primary Engineer & Ford Motor Company explain why.

We are all aware of the importance of engineering to the UK economy and equally the statistics predicting annual shortfalls of engineering graduates and technicians to fill core engineering roles. As new industries and technologies emerge adding to the already significant demand for engineering skills, the questions around how we encourage young people into engineering and how we develop the skills required continue to abound.

To address this, Ford Fund and Ford's Corporate STEAM Council are working to create new opportunities for young people to give engineering a try, and this includes partnerships with key educational organisations, such as Primary Engineer. Created in 2005, Primary Engineer provide training courses for teachers and link schools with engineering professionals to develop skills and increase awareness among pupils and teachers of engineering and potential careers. Ford Fund and Primary Engineer came together three years ago as Ford was seeking new ways to engage young people and to inspire the next generation of engineers. To date, the relationship has reached 60 schools, trained 120 teachers and involved more than 2,700 pupils, all supported by Ford engineering professionals.

Chris Rochester, UK director for Primary Engineer, says it’s important to keep engineering and STEAM at the top of the agenda when school resumes in September: “After such a prolonged break from mainstream education, teachers and pupils will be on a journey of reengagement with learning and skills development. This provides an ideal opportunity for teachers to use Primary Engineer to deliver curriculum teaching through whole-class engineering projects which develop both design and make skills along with ‘soft skills’ such as creativity, collaboration and adaptability and offer a real-world context through engineering professionals involvement. The partnership with Ford is enabling us to do exactly this.”

Providing opportunities for young people to connect with engineering and to meet and work with engineering professionals, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background, is crucial to addressing the growing global gap in technical skills and changing perceptions of both teachers and pupils about what engineering is and who can be an engineer. Buki Okoro is an engineer with Ford's Powertrain Operations in England and has been volunteering with Primary Engineer over the past two years. She thinks the partnership is having a positive impact on pupils and believes she has a responsibility to encourage girls to give engineering a try.

"It is important for females working as engineers to visit schools and let students know what these jobs entail," said Okoro, who was named one of Autocar's Great British Women – Rising Stars 2019. "The engineering/mobility sector is one with great capacity for growth and lots of future opportunities. Encouraging young people to see those opportunities is extremely essential."

“An intrinsic part of the partnership is about changing perceptions” says Chief Programme Engineer, EU Engine Programs at Ford, Sarah Haslam, who has been championing the partnership with Primary Engineer. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to inspire young people with the world of engineering and to get them to realise that it could be for them. There is an enormous variety of roles and opportunities out there and different routes into them. We know that there is a gender issue within engineering, but diversity isn't just about gender. We’re addressing this with Primary Engineer by allowing young people to identify themselves with engineering and to see a potential future for themselves and by working directly with pupils and teachers will enable us to help make this happen."

Primary Engineer conducts teacher-training days that are hosted by Ford at the company's Dunton Campus in Essex. Ford engineers also attend to understand the programme and to form professional relationships with the teachers, many of whom know little about the workings inside a major engineering centre.

Rochester,a added: “The insight for teachers into the world of engineering is transformative…Primary teachers teach the whole curriculum. We upskill teachers to provide them with the knowledge and resources to deliver the engineering projects but equally providing them with meaningful opportunities to work with engineering professionals and increase their understanding of engineering is incredibly beneficial both to the teacher and their pupils.”

At the end of each academic year, Ford hosts a celebration event at the Dunton Campus, where pupils compete against teams from other schools. Ford engineers act as judges and engage with the pupils in the professional engineering setting.

"Students love it." adds Okoro. "You can see the great sense of achievement on their faces. I can only quantify this as pure joy."

Although COVID-19 related issues with schools will not be resolved for some time, Primary Engineer are creating alternative provision to enable schools and engineering professionals to continue to work together through their programmes.

“Lockdown has created new ways for all of us to continue to work and for teachers to deliver lessons. Obviously, the hope is that in person collaboration will be able to continue in the coming months but our online sessions with engineering professionals have proven to be highly successful and provide a different way for pupils, teachers and engineering professionals to work together.”

To find out more about Primary Engineer go to or email:

Imagec caption: Chris Rochester, left, with pupils at a Ford Celebration Event training course. Photo by Spencer Griffiths