Change the World: Share Your Knowledge

Posted on 01/01/2015 by Cara O'Sullivan

Cara O’Sullivan discusses the benefits of engaging with students for design and engineering organisations

Humans have a natural curiosity for how things work. As design becomes increasingly dependent on 'invisible' technology, inquisitive children are struggling to answer their curiosities by simply dismantling things with a humble screwdriver. The mission to make life simpler is adding complexity to the way products function and, instead of wanting to understand how they work, children are being absorbed by them as consumers.

It is easy to get lost in figures relating to the political reasons why design and engineering needs more interest from students, such as filling the growing skills gap, boosting economic growth and retaining a global technological advantage. Not only will failing increase our dependence upon global labour forces and damage the economy; it will hinder the development of the human race. It is time to focus on inspiring the next generation to engage in our field of work.

At a young age, our interests are easily influenced by exposure to the views and expectations of society. Conforming to cultural norms can make engineering uninviting, particularly for girls, due to outdated stereotypes. To combat this, we need to nurture interest from a young age, with assistance from industry role models, to show that social expectations can be overridden by an ambition to pursue engineering. It seems rather obvious that, if a student doesn't know about a career, they won't have the ambition to pursue it, yet, according to Ofsted, schools rarely offer comprehensive careers advice.

The best advice comes from those who have 'been there and done it' and are able to discuss how particular subjects, interests and talents play a part in their job. The enthusiasm and knowledge possessed by those in industry have a far greater influence on students and is critical to reigniting their interest, if already lost by the usual theoretical style of teaching which may not suit the learning style of many.

Significant efforts are being made to engage schools and organisations in this, and various events have been established to show young people just how many exciting and rewarding opportunities there are in STEM industries. In December, the IED and students from Brunel University's 'Innovia' got involved with inspiring students at TeenTech City 2014. Teams of students were given a taste of hands-on programming to navigate a robot around a simple obstacle course. Events like this demonstrate how industry involvement can provide a highly engaging and fun way of learning for both the students and the coordinators.

Engaging with students is a cost-effective way for organisations to develop employees' core competencies, like communication and leadership, whilst improving networking and partnerships in the STEM community. We have a responsibility to share our knowledge and values with the next generation to help them understand the world.

Students need to know that they are capable of improving everything through design and engineering, and you have the knowledge to tell them how. To get involved, visit: http://www.stemnet.org.uk/employers/ or get in touch with your local school's STEM club.

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

– Nelson Mandela.

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