Focus on…. A Call to Arms

Medics, engineers and cyber geeks are the armies of today’s frontline and we need more of them as the pace of change accelerates, say professionals and educationalists

The Engineer: ‘I’m an engineer, get me out of here’ says Kate Bellingham

It is many years since I took my baby for an important scan, but I can still remember the relief and gratitude I felt to everyone involved: the consultant who explained that the scan was clear; the radiographer who performed the scan; and as an engineer, I recognised my debt to the people who designed and manufactured the scanner itself. Those responsible for that amazing piece of engineering, and all the associated computer systems available to medical staff, have directly influenced the life chances of many patients.

Engineering work frequently goes unobserved.  In fact, creating things that make our lives easier without us even noticing is often an engineer’s badge of success. You have heard of the Oscars and the Nobel prizes, but what about the MacRoberts? Each year, the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award is presented to teams responsible for UK’s most impressive engineering innovations including this year a company who design and manufacture tiny hi-tech surgical tools which allow ultra-targeted minimal invasive procedures. Who knows how many lives they will change or save in the future?

According to 2020 research, the top career aspirations for teens in the UK are doctor, social media influencer, YouTuber, vet and teacher. With some pioneering exceptions, this list brings to mind the phrase ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ – these roles feel familiar to young people today which is why I’m such a fan of initiatives like ‘I’m an Engineer, get me out of here’ – an online STEM activity which connects school students with engineers through real-time text chats. 

Vikas, for example, is a control engineer designing processes to decompose nuclear waste; aerospace engineer Nastasya works to reduce the environmental impact of aircraft; Steve, a lighting design engineer is researching Smart Cities; Krishnaa is investigating innovative ways to freeze cells, tissues and organs for transplants and Khaled works on robotic submarines collecting data from the ocean for scientific research. Viewers are being introduced to a wealth of opportunities by meeting real people, instead of reading an impersonal list of engineering sectors.

Looking through the UN sustainable development goals, my reaction was, ‘there’s an engineer for that.’ While in some cases the connection is obvious, such as ‘clean water and sanitation’, the 17 videos on the Royal Academy of Engineering website are a reminder of how the many facets of engineering have a role to play in the future of the planet. 

Having been a presenter on the TV programme Tomorrow’s World, I still get asked during school visits to make predictions about the future of science and tech. My response is to encourage the today’s young people to create the future they want to see. And that’s what engineering can do. 

Engineering incentives

Focus on Kate Bellingham
Kate Bellingham


Focus: Safeguarding Our Future | On the Sofa with Frances Edmonds