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Mark Whitby Anna's story

ANALYSIS

'In the end she has not joined us, but we see all our sponsored students as an indirect investment'

Anna was a bright 17 year old who appeared in our office one day looking for work experience before going to university. She had Grade 8 in music and, assuming this meant she was dextrous, we set her to work making models for Merchants Bridge.

When Anna went home that evening she quizzed her younger brother about the strange art of engineering and returned the next day having borrowed a few of his modelling tools.

Through the year she was with us she worked on the bridge, helping set up the number crunching but more generally assisting in the design. She went up to Cambridge with possibly a rather exceptional idea of what engineering was about and, more to the point, a scholarship of £1,000 a year from us together with the promise of as much vacation work as she could manage. (Today, our scholarships are £1,200). She continued with us through college and based some of her thesis work on the bridge. This is a popular subject, on which we supply copious material.

Last autumn we wrote suggesting there was a job for her when she graduated but were fully aware that the world might hold other attractions. She had already spent some time with the college officer cadet corps and I suspected they had targeted her. When a Foreign Office reference form followed we gave a glowing report, and more recently Anna confirmed that she is a fast-track recruit to the MoD. I wrote congratulating her and said that I expect to find her name on anonymous Californian websites in years to come. Very probable: she is exceptional.

One might expect that we are disappointed to have sponsored Anna and found that in the end she has not joined us, but we see all our sponsored students as an indirect investment. Evidence of this is that to date we have had 250 job applications from this year's graduates and another 115 applications for university sponsorship.

We currently sponsor 14 students. Of the 14 graduates to whom we have made offers, 12 have accepted: half of them are women. They are very different, but all are energetic and exciting. A number excel at music like Anna, and they include the odd outstanding footballer (we like to win the games we play).

The process of sponsorship and recruitment of graduates is at the core of our business success, which thrives on talent. So does the profession.

The making of engineers starts at the schools where we have the opportunity to inspire youngsters at an early age. Indeed, Anna and I have been back to her old school on three occasions.

We ease the choice for the talented by pointing out the multitude of career paths that exist downstream from university and the opportunities for financial assistance in the meantime. This needs to be coupled with good work experience that returns the students every autumn buzzing with excitement and with a good idea of what their possible profession could mean to them. This is the core of the issue.

The grumbles we have heard in this magazine about too few students becoming engineers is an irrelevance. The education that good engineers receive at university sets them up for life and should not point solely in one direction.

It is the industry's responsibility to inspire the best of them to make it their chosen destination. For Anna, we have yet to prove the case.

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