Young people sometimes pigeonhole all engineering into one box, mentally filing it as being a rather niche profession for people who like to take very exact measurements and build tools that other people use to make fun things. But engineering is an enormous field, and perhaps the best way to begin to fill the manufacturing skills gap is by demonstrating just how diverse and fascinating the field can be…
Have you ever wondered how shop-bought chocolates all taste identical? How they last a long time without losing condition or flavour? Come to that, how every single sample looks exactly the same? It is all down to engineering. Food engineers work closely with nutritionists and chefs to perfect baking techniques, as well as designing workflows that ensure the rapid production of hundreds of perfect chocolates in whatever the desired shape is, from kisses to bars to triangles.
These cunning people work very hard to make sure that you do not have to think about the engineering and calculations that go into creating the perfect rollercoaster. This is because rollercoasters are very carefully calibrated to be scary and exciting without being so violent that they actually cause sickness or injury. It takes many hours of calculations to create a smooth ride that thrills most people without terrifying or actively injuring them. Further engineering work goes into making sure that the rollercoasters can handle the stresses and forces that they are subject to when in operation, and the safety margins necessary to ensure the absolute safety of the riders on the rollercoaster.
The huge field of 3D printing
Engineering has traditionally been quite a high waste field, especially when prototype products are being made. This has changed dramatically with computer-assisted laser cutting to precise measurements and the advent of 3D printing. The opportunities offered by 3D printing are immense and even though the machines were invented in the 80s, perfected in the 90s and 10s, and are now readily available for a plethora of uses and have been for ten years or more, the field is still expanding tremendously. As well as being able to create products with the minimum of raw materials, marking a saving of resources and reduction of waste products, 3D printing is beginning to make huge strides in the field of medicine.
Bones and cartilage can already be replaced with 3D printed replicas, designed to perfectly mimic the one they are standing in for, and it will not be long before organs can be grown to demand: hearts, livers, lungs, all grown from the patient’s own stem cells and 3D printed before being implanted. This will transform the organ transplant sector of medicine, with no need for anti-rejection medication to be taken, less likelihood of the organs failing prematurely, and no need for recipients to feel guilt at the death of their donor providing them with a second lease on life.
One very glamorous aspect of being an engineer lies in aerospace engineering, you will literally be a rocket scientist! Aerospace engineers study the effects of space on machinery and the laws of physics, noting any changes to materials exposed to the lack of atmosphere in space, and learning how to counteract these to make spaceships even safer for the astronauts risking their lives to begin to explore the solar system. Aerospace engineers also have to design and calibrate equipment that will then head off into space, then working alone to send data back to the Earth so we can learn more about the planets and asteroids around us. This work is exacting, exciting and literally record-breaking as innovation is the rule rather than the exception here.
These are just some of the exciting career paths that engineers can take, so it is a real shame that engineering is often described as a rather dull and unchanging job. There are already several different disciplines within the field of engineering, materials, biomedical, aerospace, electrical and mechanical are already clear cut fields of engineering. Perhaps introducing a few more specialisms will help young people to understand just how broad and enthralling the world of engineering and STEM studies as a whole can be?
Failing that, schools and universities should have taster sessions and talks, preferably by engaged and motivated engineers who are working in a range of unexpected fields and loving it, that will express the depth and width that an engineering qualification can open up for them. Emphasis should also be given to the fact that one can follow the traditional route to an engineering qualification, that of gaining a degree, either a BSc Eng. or a MSc Eng., or one can follow a new route, one that is proving highly popular and effective at turning out practised and confident engineers, that of engineering apprenticeships. Whichever path to engineering young people decide to take, the door needs to be open and welcoming for them to step forward.