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THE NEXT GENERATION


Hayley Threadgold, of The Smallpeice Trust, discusses the need to train a new generation of engineers and reports back from a recent residential course for youngsters.


C


urrently in the UK we face a huge skills gap in railway engineering. Not


enough students go on to study engineer- ing at degree level, meaning that for many companies the average age of railway en- gineers is over 50 years of age. This has meant that many recruiters have had to look to Europe and beyond to find suitably qualified engineers.


However, with the establishment of or- ganisations such as iRail, The Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust, the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering (NSARE) and The Smallpeice Trust, all working to change engineering percep- tions, comes new hope that this skills gap can be bridged.


Looking to the future


So what is being done to bridge the gap? Educational charity The Smallpeice Trust is optimistic about the future of the engi- neering industry in the UK as we manage to inspire more and more students, year on year, into a career in engineering. Last year we reached out to 15,977 students through Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) Days and residential courses.


This year The Smallpeice Trust joined forces with NSARE and The Lloyd’s Reg- ister Educational Trust to give 2,000 13 and 14 year old students from across the country the opportunity to participate in free STEM Days and residential courses. On these STEM Days, students put their design, technology, engineering and maths talents to the test in a unique one-day railway engineering challenge devised by iRail. During this day, students were chal- lenged to design and build railway bogies to help to negotiate bends and a system for transporting long loads, such as aeroplane wings, along a train track with multiple bends and tunnels.


Winning groups from each school were put through to the STEM competition, held at this year’s iRail event, where they had the opportunity to present their innovative ide- as for the rail industry to a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style panel of judges.


Intensive course As part of these STEM Days, teachers were


80 | rail technology magazine Apr/May 11


given the opportunity to select students to attend a free place on a four-day Railway Engineering course at the University of Nottingham from 11 to 14 April.


With new railway networks being planned and with work to do on an ageing railway infrastructure, this course was aimed at inspiring young people to take up careers in this fast-moving sector. There were 104 students who attended this course; this was very encouraging considering many adults would agree that the railway industry has an image problem as a career.


Perceptions amongst young people seemed quite the opposite, but that is not surpris- ing really, considering that it’s one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK, with new technologies and innovation making the railway sector far more appealing.


Cutting across many disciplines, the course explored the design, construction and op- eration of railways and gave students a val- uable insight into what our future railways could look like.


Students worked on design-and-make pro- jects, tackling real-life challenges along- side young engineers from leading railway companies, Babcock Rail, FirstGroup plc, Network Rail and Transport for London providing them with the chance to explore the design, construction and operation of railways whilst seeing what career paths are available to them.


Projects included designing and building a train for towing materials and a railway


track complete with bends, hills & tunnels and a signalling system.


Engineers of tomorrow


During the course, students showed a re- markable enthusiasm for the subject and were keen to get to work on their projects; so much so that many students even aban- doned their break times.


This is also evident in the feedback The Smallpeice Trust received from students, as 88 of the 104 students stated that this course had encouraged them to pursue a career in engineering.


The Smallpeice Trust are also running a Railway Systems Engineering course in July at the University of Birmingham, sponsored by The Lloyd’s Register Educa- tional Trust and NSARE, for 40 teenagers aged 16 and 17.


Working with companies such as iRail, The Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust, and NSARE, The Smallpeice Trust are optimis- tic about addressing the future skills gap and the prosperity of the railway industry.


The Smallpeice Trust is an independent educational charity, founded by Dr Cosby D P Smallpeice in 1966 to promote en- gineering and design.


Visit www.smallpeicetrust.org.uk Hayley Threadgold


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