Keeping our Science and Engineering Industries in good hands

I spend a good chunk of my working life working with companies to try to expand the opportunities for young people to gain experience of commercial science and engineering environments.

I spend a good chunk of my working life working with companies to try to expand the opportunities for young people to gain experience of commercial science and engineering environments. The logic is that far too few young people between 11 and 18 are following science and engineering courses leading to careers in these industries, which are the very careers that offer the best opportunities for the UK's future prosperity. Sometimes it's hard work, many companies can see the logic in spending resources now for their own long term benefit, but some companies are very resistant to anything but short term drivers. They are being called upon to maximise short term profit in tough market conditions, for them the future prosperity of the UK, or even the skills base for their business in 10 years' time, is a secondary issue.

These frustrations can wear you down, so it is always a tonic to attend an event which makes you realise that you are making progress and that all the hard work is worth it. One such event was the Year in Industry Awards recently held at the BT Auditorium in London. The nine top performers from the many hundreds who take part in the Year in Industry across Britain came to give final presentations on the work they have been doing to a panel of judges who would make the final decisions on the award winners.

At this event it was possible to see the outworking of all that we try to achieve, young people who have been inspired into working in commercial roles using science and engineering, who are passionate and inspiring about what they do and who have achieved considerable commercial benefits for their companies on the projects they have been undertaking. Among the companies that have employed these young people for the year are the visionary major companies such as Rolls Royce and E.on, other well established companies who are not perhaps such household names such as Pall International and Delphi Diesel Systems and rapidly growing new companies such as the lighting company acdc and the commercial vehicle body manufactures Ingimex, all companies that recognise the benefits of nurturing the next generation for the good of their businesses.

The companies involved are impressive but, I am sure they would acknowledge, not as impressive as the young people themselves who simply stun me with the enthusiasm and innovation with which they tackle the projects they are set by their companies. Every one of the finalists at the Year in Industry event was praised by their companies for going beyond the remit of the brief and showing extraordinary tenacity, imagination and work ethic.

None demonstrated these qualities more than the overall winner Jieying Luo, from Barry in South Wales who was tasked by Delphi Diesel to expand their reference injector storage area. As a result of her work a new secure storage area was installed with sufficient capacity for a further five years; previously the lack of storage space was at crisis point. Jieying also created a portable device that can identify any injector by scanning its data matrix and automatically write the reference information onto a RFID tag within 3 seconds, reducing the time of tag writing by 90% and greatly reducing the possibility for human errors. The judges rightly saw her efforts as making a very significant contribution to Delphi Diesels and gave her the top Year in Industry Award for making the best contribution to the business.

It wasn't until after the competition that I learned something of Jieying's own background. In 2006 Jieying's mother (YanPing Zeng ) left the young Jieying to come to the UK to seek to make a base for Jieying to join her at a later date, determined as she was that she would make the best possible future for Jieying. Jieying stayed with her father Yiwen in China until her mother had made a base in South Wales by working long hours in restaurants so that Jieying could join her in May 2009. Jieying had virtually no English but was accepted on an A level course in Cardiff. She spent her nights translating her text books as she could understand so little of what the teachers were saying. Two years later however, Jieying had achieved 4 A* A levels and a place at Jesus College Cambridge to read Engineering and one year after that has carried off the top prize in the Year in Industry. No wonder that Delphi Diesel hope that one day she will return to them as a qualified engineer.

If I ever need to be reminded of why I do what I do, an evening in the company of such remarkable young people does the trick. The more able young people we can provide with a taste of industry through The Year in Industry and similar schemes for different age groups, the more we can be confident that the future of our science and engineering companies is in good hands.


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