Engineering the workforce of the future

“The education sector as a whole needs to do more to get girls into engineering”, says John Barker, Programme Lead of B Eng and lecturer at Nelson and Colne College.

John, who has worked in industry as a design engineer for many decades, said sadly engineering is still male dominated – and that needs to change.

He said: “The sector has been a male-dominated space for years, and it still is. On the engineering degree programme, we currently only have single digits of females from an intake of over 50 students.

“The education sector needs to do more to get girls into engineering. It needs to start earlier – ideally at primary school.

“There’s still a stigma attached to engineering that it’s a dirty industry. A lot of the industry now is very clear work, especially as a design engineer. There’s still the shop floor, but that’s not the same as it once was either.”

Speaking about the skills needed for a career in engineering, John said the first thing for any engineering course is to ensure the student’s maths is up to scratch, and that basic physics are understood.

He added: “Females have got just as much, if not more, talent in engineering. They tend to be more level-headed.”

John, formerly subject lead for engineering at a nearby university centre, said technology has vastly improved in recent years.

As part of the courses he teaches, John will be utilising some of the £8.7million of equipment the Lancashire and Cumbria Institute of Technology has invested in – such as a wind tunnel, internal combustion engines, test engines, 3D printers and thermodynamic testing.

John said: “The students love working on the 3D printers. They give an instant gratification that they have made something – a working part. These prototypes allow students to try it before it goes to full manufacturing.

“A large part of the job is about problem-solving and finding solutions – so these are the soft skills the course, and the practical elements, help to teach the workforce of the future.”