Supporting innovation with the next generation of engineers

24th June 2020
Posted By : Lanna Cooper
Supporting innovation with the next generation of engineers

Engineering has always been a vital profession, creating enormous benefits for industry and society and it continues to evolve with the growing needs of the 21st century and beyond. Over the last decade, the pace of technological innovation has accelerated at a rate never experienced before, whether that be from artificial intelligence and smart devices to programmable robots and 3D printing.

By Keith Robson, Executive Secretary of the ERA Foundation

With no signs of this slowing down, it is therefore important for us to ignite a passion and appreciation for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) among our younger generation in order to create a new cohort of engineering professionals for the future.

In order to do this, we must be able to expose students to first-hand experience and opportunities with STEM providers that will pique their interests and ensure that they understand the industry well enough to see it as their ideal career path.

At the ERA Foundation we have supported UK Engineering and innovation skills development in electro-technology (electech) manufacturing since 1920.

Engineering and manufacturing are a key part of the UK economy, providing high value, well paid jobs which capitalise on the UK’s reputation for innovation. As the UK begins to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, the UK government is looking for ways to further boost this vital sector. However, a major potential stumbling block is the fact that the UK needs two million more engineers by 2025 to meet the demand and in turn, support the economy.

Not only is there a fundamental imbalance between supply and demand for engineering skills across the UK, there is a further problem of regional disparity. While businesses in much of Greater London and the South East of England have thrived, many regions across Northern England and the Midlands have not experienced the same uplift.

According to recent research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the South East of England and Greater London have accounted for approximately 30% of the UK’s net increase in jobs since 2010, despite both regions making up approximately 25% of the UK’s population. It is therefore clear that we need to widen the access pool to offer opportunities to young individuals all over the country, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds or regions they reside in.

The Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda has demonstrated an understanding of the importance of ensuring all regions across the country are all supported in that individuals have equal opportunities to realise their passions and leverage their talents.

At the ERA Foundation we recognised not only the importance of educating and attracting today’s students into the engineering sector across the whole of the UK and to specifically target those from currently undersubscribed sectors; females and those from a diversity of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.

We became aware of the work that The Smallpeice Trust was doing; a charity set up more than 50 years ago by the brilliant British engineer Dr Cosby Smallpeice to attract students, particularly girls and those from less privileged backgrounds, into engineering.  

Partnering and support the charity’s work was a perfect fit for us.

Since that time we have been working with The Smallpeice Trust, to support its Arkwright Engineering Scholarship, an award given to high achieving 16 year old students through a highly competitive selection process during their A-levels, Scottish Advanced Highers or equivalent qualifications. Our objective is to give a wide range of students, from all walks of life the support, guidance, advice, experiences, and funds to open their eye to a future career in engineering. In turn this will provide a greater pool of talent to other organisations, ensuring they are recruiting the very best individuals.

One of the most rewarding elements of the Scholarship for us, is that not only is the individual rewarded for their accolades, but our donation also enables the school community to benefit from a monetary contribution too. This allows them to invest in enhancing the teaching of STEM; As well as this, schools of potential Arkwright Engineering Scholars gain access to a regional Arkwright Liaison Officer who can provide appropriate guidance on the application process, ensuring students are ticking all the necessary boxes and setting themselves up for their future career. At the very heart of the Arkwright Scholarship and the partnership between the ERA Foundation and The Smallpeice Trust, we continuously ensure that all students seeking engineering careers are adequately supported, irrespective of background or geographic location.

Supporting future talent now, creates the engineers who can think of new, innovative solutions for the sector. For example, Alasdair Holland is an Arkwright Scholar who now works as a mechanical engineer at Thales UK, developing mission critical Optical and Laser Systems for Submarines and Armoured Vehicles. By producing detailed designs, conducting stress and thermal analysis and qualifying products for use in the field, Alasdair has made an invaluable contribution to the engineering sector; something that we hope started with the professional development and critical thinking he experienced during the Scholarship.

As the overarching objective of both the ERA Foundation and The Smallpeice Trust is to provide more support for the next generation of engineers and to stimulate regional manufacturing innovation, we have been able to deliver programmes with great success, as well as plan how we can support students going forward.

We also work with The Smallpeice Trust and its Physics in Engineering course geared towards female students up and down the country. They learn how to analyse high tech products, explore a wide variety of STEM-related career paths, and listen to engineers from a range of related companies. Hosted at the University of Warwick, this particular course gives students from across the West Midlands the chance to meet face-to-face with neighbouring organisations and gain insight and first-hand experience of the engineering sector. Through these initiatives, we are able to reach more students and provide opportunities to those who may not have had access previously.

It is vital that we give students the opportunity to learn about the engineering sector through these regional initiatives. Partnerships such as the one we have with The Smallpeice Trust, have the benefit reaching wider audiences from across the UK, not just London and the South East.

We must provide all students and young people with hands-on opportunities to ensure they recognise the potential for a career within todays undersubscribed sectors. Let us all continue to support the next generation, so they too can benefit society and ensure that the UK continues as a global leader in innovation.


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