Engineers make things happen and no one notices them when everything works reliably and smoothly. You could replace engineers in that sentence by managers. Managers are responsible for people and organisations while engineers are responsible for the systems that underpin modern life. You can pair scientists and leaders in the same way. Scientists discover new knowledge which sets a direction for the future of technology while leaders create a vision for their organisation which also sets the direction for the future. Then engineers and managers turn the imagined futures into reality. Of course the divisions are fuzzy. Some of us would be considered engineering scientists because we work at the interface between science and engineering. And many engineers spend more time managing people and organisations than practising engineering. However, the bottom-line is that engineers and managers are responsible for the functioning of modern society and deserve greater recognition for their successes; if only to ensure a continuous and diverse flow of talented young people into the professions. So, here are two Liverpool engineers that have made the news recently for their contributions to engineering: Chris Sutcliffe who was awarded a prestigious Silver Medal from the Royal Academy of Engineering for his role in driving the development of metal 3D printed implants for use in human and veterinary surgery; and Kate Black who was named as one of the Top 50 Women in Engineering for her work on the development of novel functional materials, using inkjet printing, for the manufacture of electronic and optoelectronic devices.
See ‘Happenstance, not engineering?‘ on November 9th, 2016 for an explanation of why people are quick to assign blame when things go wrong and slow to praise when things go well – it’s all about the relative number of sites in the brain capable of blame and praise.
This week I want to enthuse about one of the most energetic and exciting speakers that I have heard for a long time: Susan Scurlock, who spoke last month at the Annual Congress of the UK Engineering Professors’ Council (EPC). Susan’s premise is that all young children are engineers. Just look at what toddlers will do if you give them a bag of bricks or when kindergarten kids are given a box of Lego. Somehow we manage to ‘educate’ the engineer out of them before they finish secondary school. So, the solution to increasing the supply of engineers is to nurture these nascent engineering tendencies provided to everyone by nature. Susan founded Primary Engineer in 2005 and in 2014 established the Institution of Primary Engineers and the Institution of Secondary Engineers to support this process. Children can become Primary Engineers through developing their innate engineering skills as part of a programme of activities.
Susan describes it as ‘STEM by stealth’. Her organisation provides training courses for teachers on practically applying Mathematics and Science to design and make activities. The results leave both children and teachers inspired. The Institution’s work is supported by industry, higher education and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. When children graduate to secondary school they can join the Institution of Secondary Engineers and then move onwards to the professional institutions as student members when they go to university. So, there is pipeline from children’s bricks and Lego to being a professional engineer.
All of this needs support and enthusiasm from the engineering profession. So, if you have already made it through the pipeline then consider helping Susan make it pipeline that doesn’t leak.
The EPC made a podcast of Susan’s presentation that you can listen to at: