• Question: I've read about the looming shortage of engineers, and the challenge of attracting new people into the profession. Do you think there is any link between making stuff with our hands as a child, and a later interest in engineering?

    Asked by richardtoft on 27 Dec 2014.
    • Photo: Andy Hearn

      Andy Hearn answered on 27 Dec 2014:

      Yes I think there is a link, and it is perhaps also encouraging the natural curiosity children have for all sorts of things, as that enables them to acquire a deeper understanding of the relationships between causes and effects.

      Some people think that today’s kids aren’t being given enough space and opportunity to explore and build – I think that is true too.

    • Photo: Peter Green

      Peter Green answered on 27 Dec 2014:

      From talking with electronic engineering students over many years I would rank ‘the practical experience of making stuff’ high, if not top, of the list of reasons for developing a later interest in engineering as a profession.

      Engineering is about innovating, designing, building, evaluating, analysing and refining. To some degree these elements are all present when we make things as a child – especially evaluating (to destruction) ☺

      I believe that Engineering has a serious image problem in the UK, and that this is perhaps our biggest challenge in attracting new people into the profession. In some senses we are victims of our own success; in electronic engineering we suffer from the phenomenal growth of the consumer electronics market. Products providing staggering levels of functionality at remarkably low cost are now commonplace, and the engineering behind them is hidden from sight and taken for granted.

    • Photo: Mina Panahi

      Mina Panahi answered on 28 Dec 2014:

      Definitely! I personally think that there is a link. Children tend to try various things purely because they are curious about exploring everything around them but as they grow older they will eventually choose the things that make them more interested. However, in my opinion, children do not have enough exposure to the practical side of making things these days.

    • Photo: Paul Murcutt

      Paul Murcutt answered on 30 Dec 2014:

      I’ve not seen any research on the matter, so wouldn’t want to say for sure, but I definitely loved Lego Technik & K’Nex when I was younger.

    • Photo: Fiona Dickinson

      Fiona Dickinson answered on 5 Jan 2015:

      I don’t know, because there are many different types of engineering. Perhaps we as engineers are not good at communicating just what a varied field engineering is, perhaps people don’t understand that behind every aspect of modern life there are a group of engineers doing there thing.

      I certainly loved taking things apart and seeing how they worked, I loved bread boards and capacitors and and little motors. I still love lego, having loved it since a young child, but I didn’t go into engineering, I became a scientist.

      I think that perhaps more and better outreach (just like this) where engineers of all types get to share their experience and people get to see just what engineers do is really important. I know that I have learnt a lot from my engineering experts.

      There is no panacea though, what works for some people will not work for others, but the most important thing is that we need to nurture and inspire those people who express curiosity and interest in engineering and not let the good work of events such as this go to waste.

    • Photo: Tim Stephens

      Tim Stephens answered on 6 Jan 2015:

      I think that there is a link because every good engineer that I know is also interested in taking things apart or making things in their spare time.