The skills required of engineers are changing. New technology and automation mean that fewer engineers are undertaking more – and more varied – work. What can we do to ensure that engineers with the right skills are encouraged into our industry today, and equipped for the industry of tomorrow?
Engineering outreach initiatives are a widely accepted method of encouraging secondary school students to consider engineering for study or work. Initiatives organised at the national level tend to focus on maths and physics skillsets, as do careers advice within schools and university course entry requirements.
Local-level outreach initiatives are beginning to focus on creativity, and the understanding of engineering behaviour. However, these skillsets are not currently easy to assess. By evaluating maths and physics skills only – a subset of engineering skills – we may discourage potentially suitable engineering applicants who have a wider range of well-developed skills, such as creativity or intuitive understanding of engineering behaviours.
This article reviews existing methods of assessing creativity and the understanding of engineering behaviours, and proposes the development of a simple evaluation procedure that could be undertaken by outreach organisers on groups of secondary school students, before and after an engineering outreach initiative to assess the effectiveness of the teaching within the initiative. The test also has potential additional applications, including to the general public, to whom engineers have often struggled to explain their jobs, and to younger students, long before they consider careers in any one subject.
The assessment portion on understanding of engineering behaviours proposes an adaptation of the 'Brohn test' and the International Mathematical Kangaroo approach, with adaptations to avoid employing visual engineering jargon in the depiction of boundary conditions, and to favour strain-based problems. The creativity assessment portion proposes simple design brief questions, with the student response evaluated based on the identity Creativity = Usefulness × Novelty and a taxonomy of creative design, within a limited design period and with limited space to represent their design to the assessor.