Last week we officially launched our new programme to encourage more students, particularly young women, to study and pursue careers in engineering. The programme aims to help foster the technical and organisational skills required for a career in engineering – using household favourite amongst both boys and girls, LEGO®.
Young women are seriously under-represented in the engineering sector in Ireland. This trend looks set to continue as recently just six percent of students who sat Engineering in Leaving Certificate 2016 exams were female. The ‘Gender in Irish Education Report’, 2010 found that there is also a significant gender imbalance of 3:1 in favour of young men studying physics, an important factor in the low take-up of engineering among women at third level. This is despite the fact that girls outperform boys in the subject.
This is unacceptable especially at a time of growing career opportunities in Ireland and abroad and more needs to be done to encourage young people to consider careers in engineering. Sometimes there are practical limitations such as the fact that many post-primary schools schedule home economics and engineering at the same time which promotes an either / or choice for students.
From our research we have found, particularly with young female students, that their parents may not fully support their choice to study engineering and that much broader awareness is needed to attract young people to study engineering and go on to work in the sector.
Addressing the Gender Imbalance in Engineering
There are many things that we can do to address this imbalance. There is a perception that Engineering is typically a male oriented subject that leads to careers in civil or mechanical engineering, however there have been huge advances within the industry over the last 20 years and unfortunately little has been done to explain how engineering has evolved and continues to progress.
Now that we are on the brink of the forth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), which is estimated to last from now until 2030, the entire industry is transforming. How equipment for manufacturing facilities is designed and supported is changing, however the education system is struggling to keep up with real world advances.
SL Controls co-founder, Shane Loughlin has over 30 years’ experience in Equipment Systems Integration. He is a leading figure in developing Industry 4.0 education through his current PhD studies at DIT. He created and runs SL Controls’ ECubers™ programme to address the shortage of young people pursuing careers in the growing Engineering sector. With the correct supports and training in place the opportunities for Irish engineers to provide high value services for equipment all around the world are increasing. Having said that, it is essential to pique the interest of young people from a young age and to excite them about the range of exciting career opportunities that now exist for both men and women in the field.
Building the Future of Engineering with LEGO®
Through ECubers™, SL Controls shares its knowledge with young people so everyone can build, program and invent better equipment using the fun, flexible and colourful LEGO® TECHNIC and LEGO® MINDSTORMS® products. The name LEGO® originally comes from the Danish phrase ‘leg godt’ meaning to ‘play well’. It is ironic that the founder, Ole Kirk Christiansen, didn’t realize until later that the word means “I study” or “I put together” in Latin. Our ECubers™ programme encourages students to put together equipment systems while playing together in a learning environment.
ECubers™ offers training to Primary and Secondary students. The ECubers™ ‘builders’ workshops are aimed at national school children to help them to foster organisational and teamwork skills, both essential for a career in engineering. The older students take part in the ECubers™ ‘programmers’ workshop.
The ECubers™ ‘builders’ work in teams of two with an assembled racing car, truck or other LEGO® sets. Each team is asked to disassemble the set and sort it by colour, brick type and size to hone the children’s organisational ability. Together, as a team, the children re-assemble the LEGO® sets learning valuable engineering principles that each component of a system must be correct to ensure that the finished product works correctly – just one misplaced brick can affect the outcome of the finished piece.
Along with these practical hands-on skills older students get a master class in computer programming using the larger more complex LEGO® Technics sets along with computer code to program the LEGO® to move and perform tasks.
Success with Pilot Programmes
Pilot ECubers™ workshops run with over 50 students have shown that Transition Year students experienced a better understanding of the existing professional engineering roles, such as systems engineers, mechatronic engineers and project managers, through ECubers™. 75 per cent of students said they were surprised at how interesting they found the project with 95 per cent saying they experienced great satisfaction from getting the equipment working.
We have invested over €15,000 in LEGO® products to develop this programme. With demand increasing for good engineers worldwide, SL Controls are working to ensure Ireland maintains its high standard of education in the field and to attract more students to study engineering.
From our pilot workshops we have found that ECubers™ has been very successful at introducing the concept of a career in Equipment Systems Engineering and it is evident that much broader awareness is needed if we are to maximise the potential of attracting young people, especially young women, to study Engineering.
SL Controls employs a team of over 50 engineers and has announced 20 new engineering positions by early 2017. Keen to foster the top engineering talent, we hope to roll-out ECubers™ to primary and secondary schools across Ireland over the coming years.
For more information on ECubers™ call 071 9134040 or [email protected] to arrange your school visit with our team of experienced ECubers™ mentors. Together we can build a brighter future for Engineering!