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Viewpoint: Making engineering fun

Amy Wright

If we lighten up, we can draw in the young.

Inspiring young people to take up careers in civil engineering is one of the most pressing concerns we face. The numbers going on to study physics and maths at A-level have been slowly increasing for the past few years, but unfortunately, this has not translated into an increase in the number of UK students going on to take accredited civil engineering courses. Numbers have declined by approximately 7% each year from 2012.

Devoting time to visiting schools and career fairs is something ICE members like me do often, and it really helps in raising awareness of career options in our industry. But how can we make a truly memorable impact on those we meet?

In June, for National Women in Engineering Day, 110 youngsters from schools across the North East found their day unexpectedly interrupted by a zombie apocalypse. Luckily, civil engineers including myself were on hand to guide them through a series of challenges to help them and others survive. These included finding a safe place to stay by completing a feasibility study using maps, assessing the best renewable technology to provide electricity for the Survivor’s Island, creating a water filter to remove the “zombie virus” and constructing an elevated platform for a safe place to camp.
Ok, so the zombies weren’t real, just a couple of members from the North East Graduate and Students Committee and engineers from Amec Foster Wheeler in make-up and ripped clothes adding a fun theatrical element to the day. But that’s part of the reason the initiative worked so well - because taking ourselves too seriously isn’t a good look.

Last year London engineers danced along to Pharrell Williams’ hit song, “Happy” - a video that brought together a cross section of the industry in the capital, from breakdancing Balfour Beatty apprentices on the Olympic Village site, to secret hoofer Sir John Armitt. The video went viral; it was watched and shared on social media channels by students, teachers, parents, journalists, members, parliamentarians and even celebrities. It was also shown at STEM events and numerous industry conferences. It is tallying over 100,000 views.

These are just a few examples of how we have made civil engineering relate to young people in a fun and lasting fashion. There are many more.

So are we learning to do things differently? I’m not saying we shouldn’t focus on real-world problems - many youngsters find the idea of helping people very motivating, and of course, civil engineering is a public service. But if we are to connect with the widest possible cross-section of our youth, perhaps we need to remember to lighten up a bit too.

If members have any ideas for fun, entertaining and even downright silly activities that we could develop to engage young people in and outside the classroom, please share with us by emailing Members can also help to bring civil engineering into schools directly, by becoming a STEM ambassador. It can be hugely enjoyable, fulfilling and add to your professional skills. Find out more at

  • Amy Wright is ICE North East regional education coordinator

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