Commonside: Inspiring Future Engineers

Sponsor: Commonside Community Development Trust CommonsideD16_photo
Sponsor Liaison: Naomi Martin
Student Team: Andrew Rathbun
Dasan Costandi
Matthew Haley
Abstract: The United Kingdom’s engineering sector has vacant positions and there are not enough skilled workers to fill them. The Commonside Community Development Trust hopes to inspire local students to pursue engineering by starting a community-wide outreach initiative. To ensure that Commonside has the proper materials and information to effectively implement this outreach initiative we completed three objectives. We determined reasons why students in the London borough of Merton were not choosing engineering as a career. We outlined engineering outreach programs that incorporate Merton history and influential engineers who lived in the borough. We provided the Commonside Community Development Trust with recommendations for approaching private-sector companies with the intent of forming partnerships.
Link: Final report (CommonsideD16_report)
Final presentation (CommonsideD16_presentation)

Executive Summary

The United Kingdom’s engineering sector is currently failing to fill vacant positions with qualified workers. According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research the number of vacancies in the UK engineering sector will increase by 257,200 between 2012 and 2022. These vacant positions would contribute £27.0 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) if filled (Centre for Economics and Business Research, 2014). The growing shortage of qualified engineers in the UK is a threat to the UK economy.
The director of the Commonside Community Development Trust proposed an initiative to increase engineering education in east Merton. East Merton, specifically Pollards Hill where Commonside is located, has a high rate of unemployment and deprivation (London Borough of Merton, n.d.a). Commonside’s director proposed this initiative with the goal of helping local residents capitalize on the growing number of vacant positions within the engineering sector. Our role was to provide information and resources to help Commonside effectively implement the initiative. In order to accomplish our goal we developed three objectives:

1. To evaluate the current interest in and state of engineering education in east Merton.

2. To draft engineering outreach programs that incorporate the local history of the London Borough of Merton and the influential engineers who lived there.

3. To provide recommendations for engaging potential supporters and partners for the proposed initiative.

The United Kingdom is falling behind in three areas relevant to engineering growth: employment, number of new engineering graduates, and research and development spending. The growth of the engineering workforce in the United Kingdom is small relative to other developed nations such as the United States, Germany, and France (Marriot, 2006).

Inspiring Future Engineers Reports from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) revealed that the number of students graduating with engineering and technology degrees in the UK dropped by 10% from 1995 to 2004. It took until 2014 for the number of students graduating with engineering and technology degrees to grow back to where it was in 1995. During this time the number of other undergraduate SET degrees awarded was increasing (Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2015). The UK spends only 1.7% of its GDP on research and development whereas the US and Germany each spend nearly double that percentage (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2014).

Organizations in the UK have made efforts to create future engineers. EngineeringUK and Young Engineers, both based in London, are the two largest of these organizations. EngineeringUK runs an outreach effort known as the Tomorrow’s Engineers program. In this program, EngineeringUK uses in-school workshops, hands-on activities, mentorship programs, and engineering career fairs to expose students to engineering and inspire future engineers (EngineeringUK, n.d.b). Young Engineers offers schools the option to host STEM Challenge Events where they give students a problem to solve and challenge them to design and build a solution (Young Engineers, 2016b).

The London Borough of Merton was formed in 1965 when the municipal boroughs Mitcham, Morden, Merton, and Wimbledon merged. Merton had a large number of manufacturing companies along the River Wandle during the industrial revolution due to the usefulness of the river’s fast flowing water. During its success, Merton attracted many wealthy residents (Merton Council, n.d.a).

To complete our first objective we created a survey for students and interviewed local school teachers and administrators. We distributed the survey through events hosted at Commonside as well as to St. Mark’s Church of England academy. We interviewed two members of the school’s senior leadership team, Senior Vice Principal Austin Sheppard and Vice Principal Jonathan Harris, and the school’s IT coordinator. In our survey and interviews we gathered information that we could use to determine which groups of students Commonside Inspiring Future Engineers should target in the initiative, what kinds of outreach programs would be most effective, and how receptive students, teachers, and administrators would be to Commonside’s initiative.

To complete our second objective we conducted interviews with experts from local historical societies to learn more about local industrial history that we could incorporate into potential outreach programs. We interviewed representatives from the Wandle Industrial Museum and the Merton Heritage Society.

Using the information we gained from these representatives we conducted independent research to continue learning about local history that could be useful in outreach programs. We then developed draft engineering outreach programs which incorporate the history we researched.

To complete our third objective we conducted interviews with representatives from local companies and organizations. We chose these representatives either because their company or organization was a prospective partner for the initiative or because they had experience forming successful partnerships. Through these interviews we determined what private sector companies would look for in a partnership with a charity organization.

Results and Recommendations
Students are interested in exposure to engineering education yet are not choosing engineering as a career. We found that students were in favor of engineering but only considered the field as a tolerable career choice, rather than ideal. Most students had never been recommended a career in engineering by an adult and had not participated in any engineering related activities outside of the classroom. We determined exposure to engineering related activities, programs, and demonstrations, and having an adult recommend engineering as a career were two major reasons why students were interested in engineering as a career. We made recommendations to Commonside to include parents in engineering outreach programs so that parents’ opinions of engineering as a career could be affected as well as students’ opinions.

We drafted engineering outreach programs incorporating the local history of Merton and important historical engineers from the borough which we suggest Commonside further develop into complete outreach programs for students. We considered several aspects of local industrial Inspiring Future Engineers history and determined which parts of this history would be suitable for engineering outreach programs. The local Merton Abbey Mills still has a working waterwheel that would be a useful addition to an outreach program. Utilizing the textile printing techniques employed in the Merton Abbey Mills would be a useful method to connect science and technology to arts by teaching students creative design skills. Wandle Industrial Museum volunteers were willing to incorporate engineering principles into their existing historical outreach programs. We determined that we could incorporate the accomplishments of local engineers into outreach programs and outlined programs based on famous railway bridges designed by Merton resident James Brunlees, a well-respected civil engineer and a program based on Joseph Bazalgette, a Merton resident and the engineer who designed the modern London sewer system.

We created recommendations for Commonside to use when attempting to form partnerships with private-sector companies. We used information from our interviews with company representatives and individuals with experience forming partnerships to determine benefits that Commonside could bring to a partnership with a private-sector company. We also determined what Commonside should look to gain from these partnerships.