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Building the future: red Lego brick by red Lego brick

Antony Oliver

“By contrast to the tat which is put in front of our young, Lego is a very honest toy. You get out of it what you put in”

In a world of economic and business gloom there was one piece of news this week should have warmed the heart of every civil engineer - sales of Lego are up.

And not just up a bit either. Lego this week reported a 51% increase in UK sales taking its UK market share from 2.2% to 3.3% - apparently its highest level ever. Around the world was a similar story with global Lego sales up 18%.

By contrast to so much of the tat which is put in front of our young, Lego is a very honest toy. You get out of it what you put in.

It is not just Lego that is having a good time. While overall the UK toy market contracted by 2% last year, the UK construction toy market grew by 13%.

That is so good to hear. The fact that there is more Lego being played with by our children bodes really well for the future of engineering.

By contrast to so much of the tat which is put in front of our young, Lego is a very honest toy. You get out of it what you put in.

It has, as Lego itself points out this week, “timeless appeal” which is benefitting in the downturn. And in my view no parent can afford to be without a bucket of it.

I say that as someone who seems to spend an alarming amount of time trying (not always successfully) to persuade and distract my four and six year old children away from the dreaded television, computer games and in fact, any toy that requires batteries. And the fact is that Lego remains my most successful foil.

Over half term last week the big box of Lego travelled with us. Towers were built and destroyed, cars were built, raced and smashed. While I am resigned to the knowledge that I will not be able to fight off the Wii invasion for very much longer, I remain convinced that Lego still provides genuine family entertainment.

But more important, construction toys like Lego provide a vital part of the education process. They really do provide the bedrock for young minds to learn the basics of design, construction and problem solving and fuels their imagination as they construct something from nothing - over and over again.

This is a point which the civil engineering profession should not ignore. The continued popularity of this toy - and other construction toys like it - should be seen as a key to the industry’s future.

In essence, the more children that are playing, designing and building with Lego today, the more chance there will be that engineering, design and construction passion will be instilled into our young people tomorrow.

And if we are serious about reigniting the global economy with engineering and infrastructure projects such as Crossrail, High Speed Two and a new era of electricity generation we will need that passion and talent.

So for the sake of engineering I urge you to think carefully the next time you are shopping for toys and embrace this new era of the construction toy.

Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

PPA editor of the year

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