In a short university research feature just published, Minshall, a senior lecturer in technology management in Cambridge’s Engineering Department, says he was surprised when he asked a group of 10 year old primary school children to draw him some pictures of engineers.
Most of the pictures, he told an audience at the Hay Festival earlier this month, depicted men fixing cars or trains. “The only time many people see the word ‘engineering’ is when there are delayed trains and bus replacement services,” he said.
Minshall believes the shortage of engineers and children’s perceptions of the profession are linked. “The UK needs more engineers, but engineering is not a thing that young people aspire to be – and this stems from them not really knowing what engineers do. Their perceptions seem to be inaccurate and negative.”
To consider whether this was specifically a UK phenomenon, he spoke to colleagues from a number of countries and they suggested doing the ‘drawing test’ in their countries, using a coding system developed by researchers at Purdue University in the US. Results could be compared and used to help inform policymakers in the UK.
Unveiling some of the results from Italy, Minshall showed that they also depicted people fixing things, but many drew rather glamorous female engineers directing people on building sites.
So far, the project has included a pilot in the UK, data from Italian schools and from Germany. Later this year, data will be captured and analysed from schools in China and Japan.
Minshall says that some commentators believed 3D printing could revolutionise manufacturing, allowing people to create objects at home and saving shipping costs from abroad. Low-end 3D printers could also have an important role to play in schools, helping to re-ignite enthusiasm for engineering and manufacturing.
This material is protected by copyright Ken Hurst 2013.