Designing our engineers of the future

The engineering industry, like all others, has its own set of unique challenges and opportunities. At present, one question on everybody’s lips is how the industry can collectively encourage the UK’s brightest minds and attract its youngest talent, explained Paul Mulvey, Sales Director at norelem UK.

Right across the vast scope of the engineering industry, there is a recognised skills shortage. With engineering-related businesses making up nearly a third of all registered UK enterprises, the industry is having to think up new ways in which it attracts new talent.

According to the latest ‘State of Engineering’ report from Engineering UK, the annual demand for engineering roles that require a minimum Level 3 skillset currently stands at 124,000, however the UK’s current output of qualified personnel meets just over half of this figure. A similar problem is also echoed in degree-level roles as the industry attempts to fill the void of at least 22,000 engineering graduates every year.

In the report, the so-called skills shortage is a result of several challenges including a shortfall of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) teachers, a lack of upcoming female engineers, the near-absence of home-grown talent, and a scarcity of knowledge about apprenticeships.

The lack of university graduates is worrying, but an even bigger underlying issue could derail our engineering industry even further, and that of real-world experience. There’s often criticism of how those who are completing degrees in engineering-related disciplines are spending too much time in the classroom and not enough time polishing their skills out in the field.

As Professor Mehmet Karamanoglu, Head of Design Engineering and Maths at Middlesex University aptly put it: “Employers often complain that engineering graduates lack practical skills. They may have very limited problem-solving abilities and little experience of applying their engineering knowledge in practical situations.”

The problem is at least well recognised though and work is being done to give budding engineers the help they need. The Telegraph STEM Awards 2019 promises the winner a career-defining work experience programme and £25,000, for example. 2018 was coined as the ‘Year of Engineering’ to give more young people experiences of engineering, to entice them from an early age.

However, we need more. norelem, as a global manufacturer and supplier of flexible standard parts and components for mechanical engineering, is keen to be a piece of the puzzle. With a healthy fusion of practical and theory-based knowledge through partnerships and projects across Europe norelem’s goal is to not only attract more people into the engineering trade, but to give them the skills where they can truly innovate for the future.

One of the biggest initiatives that norelem sponsor is Formula Student. An international competition, Formula Student brings together undergraduates from a host of worldwide universities to design and create a racing car. The vehicles are then put to the test at various competitions such as Silverstone, where the overall winner is decided based upon speed, design, performance and efficiency.

The sponsorship is more than just a monetary value too. Supporting the SUFST (Southampton University Formula Student Team) and UB Racing (University of Birmingham), norelem provides a range of products including aluminium profiles and accessories, linear ball bearings, rod ends, magnets, rubber buffers and ball-end thrust screws.

Sourcing standard parts and equipment can also be a huge challenge for students, just as they are setting out to work on their own projects and ideas. They are not only applying their engineering skills, but learning about the gritty nature of meeting deadlines, using CAD and working with suppliers.

Stress can start to creep in here too. In 2015, more than 15,000 first-year students disclosed a mental health condition, according to a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a think-tank. With tuition fees of over £9,000 a year and uncertain job markets students are under huge pressures to excel during their time in university. It is here where engineering reference guides, like norelem’s THE BIG GREEN BOOK, can be useful. With 43,000+ components, drawings and best practice guides, students have the best access to the components they need, helping to obtain maximum efficiency and saving time during the production process.

While engineering can be about individual talent, it is also as much about teamwork and working collectively to solve common problems. In the run-up to the final Formula Student competition, norelem also organises a Race Camp in Germany to give students the ability to put their creations to the test on a race track. The event offers all of their sponsored teams from across Europe the opportunity to come together, share best practice, and most importantly, celebrate their passion for engineering.

As well as Formula Student, it is important to challenge school and university students to innovate. To this end norelem further encourages aspiring engineers with its ‘Engineering Newcomer’ award.

Now in its fifth year, the accolade gives youngsters the chance to present their construction project to the public. Again, an accolade is a CV booster, but Engineering Newcomer also teaches students the value of creating engineering outcomes that have a commercial value, technological benefits and a market value.

In this year’s competition, the top prize was awarded to a team which created a bottling device that prevents sediment produced during fermentation processes from entering drinks. Other recognised entries included an off-road desert buggy and a shredder for plastic which heats the waste to produce a recyclable plastic filament for 3D printing.

Learning never stops in the world of engineering. With ever-developing smart technologies, the fast-paced nature of this sector means solutions created today could be outdated by tomorrow. Coupled with the ongoing drive to deliver maximum efficiencies, mean even the professionals are required to stay up-to-date with industry trends and new technologies.

Ongoing training is now an unwritten must. In addition to assisting students to apply their lecture-derived knowledge to real-world scenarios, norelem also provides product training to secure the professional development of qualified engineers. norelem ACADEMY works closely with businesses to provide on-site training courses, ensuring topics are truly relevant to the respective enterprise and delivering courses that are suitable.

To inspire the design engineers of tomorrow and address the skills shortage being experienced in the UK at present, projects such as norelem’s fundamental modular programs and training courses are undoubtedly making a dent.

By introducing practical applications to run concurrently with classroom knowledge, engineers of the future are being galvanised for the world of work ahead. Education is required at both grassroots level and for those already in the job. The quicker the industry recognises this, the more chance there is of generation of design engineers and qualified staff are receiving a well-rounded education, and ultimately, an exciting lifelong career.

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