Engaging young people with engineering careers #buildingpassions

As I write this post I’m sitting in a school sports hall trying to interest the kids in engineering careers.

The problem is they aren’t really attracted by the discipline.

Mention maths and that particularly gets the cold shoulder.

By contrast the person with the fluffy dog which anyone can stroke and hug is like a magnet to teenage boys and girls.

How does one compete with such attractions?

You could train an animal or perhaps a cute-looking robot to design and build a structure.

My preference is to face the stark reality of the fact that maths still scares people. We have to lure them in without them knowing.

Therefore, we can’t oversell the immediate benefits of the profession until they are on board with the direction of travel. This takes careful planning across the ages and stages of education.

I have blogged elsewhere about the role of parents in their child’s education and how this relates to undergraduate level once their son or daughter becomes a legal adult in the UK.

To me good parents and carers have always been the key to unlocking career progress for young people at an early age. They set up the opportunities by helping to keep options open for their wards. Teenagers then take it forward with help from qualified adults in schools, colleges and then universities.

As always the devil is in the detail.

But reading my forthcoming book ‘Building Passions’ or Roma Agrawal’s BUILT may at least help get conversations started between parents and kids about the relevance of the built environment as a professional choice.

Have a look at a revamped website

My former employer the Institution of Structural Engineers has revamped its website into something much more user friendly and welcoming.

Have a look!

It now explains structural engineering in simpler language to a global audience of experts and non-experts.

My key audience when I was there was young people. In fact I still feature on the revamped website in a blog post about an exciting programme getting teenagers into structural engineering and architecture.

There are plenty of students out there who don’t fully understand their university and career options. In many cases this may be fine, but for some it could also mean the difference between a happy life and one where you are struggling to find your niche.

My major piece of careers advice to anyone considering their employment choices is to use any reasonable and ethical means available to find out the truth about a profession – this may include becoming a member of a body or tracking down and speaking directly to graduates and apprentices within a sector. Fortune favours the brave and employers will reward initiative with an opportunity to prove yourself.

Finally, there are always second chances and I am currently grasping one for myself by writing my first book much later than I had hoped to. This won’t be my sole occupation but an important part of who I am. It took me a long time to get here but it has been worth it.

NB: the image of the Forth Rail Bridge in this post reflects one of the banner images on the IStructE’s new website and is the iconic 19th Century structure built from the same Arrol steel used on Tower Bridge.

Another brick in the wall?

Pink Floyd wrote a song about education back in the late 70s called ‘Another Brick in the Wall’.

The implication was that education was another brick or barrier in life that people had to get through, which together with many others built the metaphorical wall after which Floyd’s concept album was named.

I take a different view about modern education. It’s not about bricks any more. Even education and training on building things isn’t about bricks. Nor is it about complete blue skies thinking and creativity. It is about bringing together knowledge with skills to produce individuals who are occupationally competent. This is what happened with Sir John Wolfe Barry’s apprentices back in the 19th century.

They often came from privileged backgrounds with little practical experience but plenty of basic knowledge. This was harnessed through opportunities to work in a variety of environments: the drawing office, archives and out on site or in a factory or workshop setting. Many of them went on to become more skilled than their master: Sir Alexander Gibb is one who comes to mind.

This was real learning by doing. But it would eventually be taken over by an academic type of learning aimed at the legal and managerial classes or to supply staff to the research laboratories of the great universities.

Sadly we have had to go back and reinvent the wheel. I only hope it’s not too late to get young people enthused again by the idea of work-based learning.