Secondary school students impressed MPs and parliamentarians with project work they had entered in The Big Bang Competition, the UK’s top annual science and engineering competition for young people.
As the UK emerges from the disruption caused by the global pandemic, it’s apparent that it will need more engineers working at the heart of the levelling up, net zero and energy independence agendas.
Research from EngineeringUK suggests that the engineering sector currently draws its skills from a very narrow section of society. For example, only 16.5% of the engineering workforce are women compared to 47.7% of the entire national workforce and 11.4% are from minority ethnic backgrounds compared to 13.4% of the overall workforce. Young people’s perceptions of engineering strongly relate to their parents’ opinion of engineering and knowledge of what an engineer does and how you become an engineer varies not only by gender, but also socioeconomic background, ethnicity and region.
Programmes like The Big Bang are crucial for ensuring more young people see themselves as scientists and engineers and choose the profession as a career. A more diverse workforce is known to be more innovative and productive and would help address the UK’s engineering skills shortages.
Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive of EngineeringUK, which organises The Big Bang programme said: “Our research shows that young people who know more about what engineers do are more likely to consider a career in engineering. Unfortunately, students have had their careers provision disrupted by the pandemic. It’s really important to give young people from all backgrounds more opportunities to understand the breadth of exciting careers available in STEM. Filling these jobs will be critically important if the UK is to become an innovation nation that can meet the challenges of the 21st century.
The Big Bang Competition regularly receives hundreds of entries, and projects showcased at Big Bang at Parliament included ideas to improve sustainability at schools and London City Airport, an eco-friendly phone case and another to stem the tide of single-use plastics by reducing the number of shampoo bottles.
Also displayed was ‘scooterbus’ – a transport solution to improve congestion in towns and cities. Parliamentarians speaking and attending the event included Minister for School Standards, Robin Walker MP, Shadow Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills Toby Perkins MP and Stephen Metcalfe, Chair of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee.
Bethan Padbury, a previous winner of The Big Bang Competition, said: “The Big Bang Competition helped me find my confidence in ways that I didn’t get from school. I felt like I could succeed in bringing my ideas to life and making something that before only existed in my head. I found out I could stand in a room of industry professionals and explain my work to them. The Competition made me feel strong and capable and I could see myself with a role in STEM in the future.”
Dr Leevers added: “The Big Bang helps engage young people with STEM and the projects on show at Big Bang at Parliament display the very best of their ingenuity in using science and engineering to benefit society. The Big Bang Competition highlights how talented the UK’s young scientists and engineers are and we’re really proud to host their work at the Houses of Parliament.”