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Will the Year of Engineering manage to change the profession’s image?

Another week, another report on engineering education – at least, that’s how it seems nowadays. The latest, from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, concludes that engineering needs to be promoted more effectively at schools.

To a large extent, the report doesn’t tell us anything that hasn’t been explored by similar initiatives. Essentially, it says that lack of exposure to engineering means school students don’t get a sense of its value. This is exacerbated by a lack of knowledge amongst teachers and a lack of resources.

Nine recommendations are made in the document – and the lead recommendation shows just how hard it might be to get anything done. It says a working group should be set up to examine innovative ways in which engineering can be integrated into the curriculum. And the IMechE’s head of education and skills seems to realise it’s all a bit futile. Peter Finegold said: “We accept that Government is unlikely to change the curriculum fundamentally or introduce engineering as a standalone school subject.”

And there is the problem in a proverbial nutshell; all the time it retains its steely eyed focus on competing with Asian countries on maths performance, the Government isn’t going to be entertaining with any great enthusiasm the possibility of teaching children about engineering or bringing in problem based learning.

Yet the Government has designated 2018 the ‘Year of Engineering’. The year long campaign will support the engineering profession in recruiting the next generation of engineers. Events and initiatives across the UK will, if all goes well, give young people ‘an inspiring experience of modern engineering’.

Those somewhat longer in the tooth may be able to cast their minds back to 1997 and the Year of Engineering Success. That was a year long campaign ‘packed with events to persuade young people, parents and opinion formers of the importance of engineering’. It also hoped to recruit the ‘brightest and best talent’. Does that sound familiar?

In 1997, the industry was asked by Government to get together to provide a positive image and for engineers to ‘sell themselves’. Today, the engineering community is being asked to get together to agree a unified message about engineering.

The fact that we are going back around the loop again shows just how difficult it is to change things.

Author
Graham Pitcher

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