Article - Issue 23, June 2005

Supporting Tomorrow's Engineers

Caroline Durbin

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This year, three schemes from The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Best Programme are working together to attract talented students to a career in engineering. Together they form the Engineering Development Trust (EDT). Here, Caroline Durbin explains the value that students get from the schemes and the benefits they bring to the companies who sponsor them.

The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Best Programme is a continuum of curriculum enrichment schemes in science, engineering and technology (SET) that engages with and inspires thousands of young people in schools, colleges, universities and beyond. It provides nationwide opportunities for young people in schools to explore and develop an enthusiasm for SET. It also gives vital information and experience for students at key decision points in their lives, as well as supporting undergraduate and postgraduate students in their professional and personal development. The three Best schemes which make up the Engineering Development Trust (EDT) are the Engineering Education Scheme (England), Headstart and The Year in Industry, and together they involve 2,700 students from across the UK.

Engineering Education Scheme (England)

Richard Clayton, winner of the 2003–4 Sir Henry Royce Award for his work on Masons’ new production control system © Birmingham Post

Richard Clayton, winner of the 2003–4 Sir Henry Royce Award for his work on Masons’ new production control system © Birmingham Post

The Engineering Education Scheme (England) (EESE) matches a professional engineer from a local partner company with a team of Year 12 students and their teacher for 5–6 months on a real engineering challenge faced by the organisation. By providing an understanding of the different opportunities available in both the professional and academic world of engineering the scheme empowers students to make informed career choices.

Richard Clayton was one of the many talented 16- to 17-year-old students to gain hands-on experience with EESE: “I took part in a project for Jaguar. Our team worked with an engineer from the company to look at how we could improve the circuitry for the automatic rain sensors used for windscreen wipers on the Jaguar X type. It was an exciting, challenging project with a prestigious company and it really promoted my interest in electronic and electrical engineering.”

The value of EESE to participating companies is clear: 75% of successful projects produce money-saving outcomes for the company; the engineer from the company also gains from developing project management skills whilst leading the students; and many companies benefit from their long-term contact with high-calibre students.

The Year in Industry

This is especially true of The Year in Industry scheme, which places bright, motivated candidates with companies for a gap year before or during their degree. These pre-screened students are matched carefully with companies on the basis of their chosen degree course, often in engineering, science, technology or business. The scheme also gives students the opportunity to earn a real salary while gaining the right skills and experience to enhance their higher education and professional career prospects.

Having been stimulated by the EESE scheme, Richard Clayton decided to build on the experience by opting for an arranged gap year. “Towards the end of my A levels I decided to take a year’s placement prior to university. At GCSE level I had gained the top results in my year, and had complacently 'taken my foot off the gas' for A levels, so this year had to be the catalyst for me to gather the momentum to tackle another three years of study.

“I felt that The Year in Industry offered a perfect blend of practical skills and experience, whilst still bridging the gap leading me to university. The scheme could give me the chance to prepare for university both financially and emotionally. I applied for deferred entry to my chosen university courses. On my UCAS form I was enthusiastic about the EESE project I had done, and spoke honestly about why I was deferring and what I hoped to gain from my year in industry... I was accepted by all my choices.

“My placement with The Year In Industry took me to a relatively small non-ferrous metal manufacturer, B Mason & Sons, where I was given the task of designing and implementing a new system for the company’s packing line. At its inception the project involved communicating with different databases and printing bar-coded labels. However after implementing the system five months ahead of schedule, I expanded and extended it to all end of line machines. I also implemented systems to generate shift reports (based on the systems’ collected data), and established data migration procedures that the company has since adopted for many other projects. The system met and surpassed all requirements. The reduced downtime and increased efficiency means that Masons now saves £125,000 per annum as a direct result of my system.

“Both the Engineering Education Scheme (England) and The Year in Industry offered a perfect insight into what a career in engineering is like. They equipped me with skills and experience that have proved really useful at university. Being able to visualise where theory and knowledge can be applied in practice makes studying that much easier.”

Headstart

Headstart girls at Cambridge finding out how a diesel engine is constructed © Headstart

Headstart girls at Cambridge finding out how a diesel engine is constructed © Headstart

The third scheme under the Engineering Development Trust’s umbrella is Headstart. Every summer, hundreds of 17-year-old students from across the UK attend a Headstart course. Organised by the engineering departments of 26 leading universities, these well-established residential courses are designed for students interested in mathematics or science subjects. During their week at university, students design, build and test projects, attend seminars and lectures, and meet recent graduates.

Not only can they talk with like-minded people about science and engineering degrees, they also learn about different methods of starting a career in business, education, the services or industry, and are given advice on which college or university they should apply to, and how to finance their education.

Hundreds of young women take part in Headstart every year and have shown an interest in sharing with others what they have learned. With this in mind, selected courses have been extended, finishing on Fridays instead of Thursdays with more girls attending on the final day. This scheme is called Dragonfly.

Where Dragonfly is featured, the 17-yearold Headstart girls are invited to stay on for an extra day to help as mentors with project work designed for students from local schools – which acts as a ‘mini-Headstart’ for younger girls, many of whom are unaware of the excitement and creativity to be gained from a technology-based career.

Dragonfly modules encourage more young women to think about science, engineering and technology careers and provide the information for them to make informed choices about GCSE and A level subjects. It also helps those interested in vocational qualifications. Major organisations participate, including Shell, Ford, AstraZeneca, the Royal Air Force, GKN, Rolls- Royce, BAE Systems, FKI, National Grid Transco, Edmund-Nuttall, Goldman Sachs and the Royal Navy.

One of the first Dragonfly modules was held at Manchester, where staff from the Royal Air Force joined as mentors. Squadron Leader Joanna Khan, Officer Commanding Engineer Liaison Team, a Queen’s Guide and keen supporter of Headstart, said: “We are delighted to be pioneering this initiative at UMIST. Although girls are perfectly capable of developing their careers without any special facilities, some schools are better equipped than others with the resources necessary to make the right choices, and Headstart’s Dragonfly will help even more young women to understand the wide range of opportunity available from technology-based careers in industry and the services, and to make sure they know how to go about it.”

A sponsor’s view

Many blue chip companies support these EDT initiatives along with the other Best Programme Schemes, for example Rolls Royce, QinetiQ, Ford, Severn Trent,BMW, Shell and AstraZeneca. Sue Fowler is the Group Employment Adviser at GKN and she explains why the company supports all three Engineering Development Trust schemes: “GKN has supported all three of the EDT programmes for at least 15 years, both financially and practically, because they are very effective in promoting engineering as a career. Any visit to an EDT awards or assessment day, at either regional or national level, will show you highly enthusiastic young people, who bring unfettered imagination and a ‘no-holds-barred’ approach to problem solving. These students attain great results while tackling projects that more experienced people may view with trepidation. The programmes create a 'can-do' attitude that will help these students for the rest of their lives.

“GKN gets something out of the bargain as well. It's great experience for our engineers to get out of the workplace and become involved with the local schools and students. It is an opportunity for us to run a project to a set timeframe, but with definite deliverables, which ultimately will be of practical use in the workplace. And students aren't afraid to air their views on the performance of the supervising engineer either, so it's very much a two-way process.

“In terms of The Year in Industry, our engineers get the chance to develop their supervisory skills, and also to plan and monitor a personal development plan for the trainee – vital experience for the future. When it’s done well, we may get a good recruit into back into GKN at the end of the student's degree course. It is very much a win-win situation for the students and the companies, with minimal administration and bureaucracy in between.”

“Both the Engineering Education Scheme (England) and The Year in Industry offered a perfect insight into what a career in engineering is like. They equipped me with skills and experience that have proved really useful at university. Being able to visualise where theory and knowledge can be applied in practice makes studying that much easier.”

Biography – Caroline Durbin

Caroline Durbin is the Marketing Coordinator at the Engineering Development Trust (EDT).

Further reference

For more information about the Academy’s Best Programme, including all the EDT schemes, and to find out how people and companies can get involved, visit:

The Best Programme www.raengbest.org.uk

EESE: www.thescheme.org.uk

Headstart: www.headstart.org.uk

The Year in Industry: www.yini.org.uk

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