'Engineering might not be seen as cool – that's something I want to change'

Professional Engineering

'We need more engineers, and a lot of young people who are considering their future could go on to have really diverse and unique careers in engineering'
'We need more engineers, and a lot of young people who are considering their future could go on to have really diverse and unique careers in engineering'

Television presenter Rob Bell has joined forces with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ heritage awards committee to create a video introducing the engineering stories behind the world’s most intriguing tanks.

For Rob, working on the Top 5 Tanks video – which was produced in cooperation with the Tank Museum at Bovington in Dorset – was, in a sense, a return to his roots, and an industry that is often overlooked in the minds of the general public. 

A graduate of mechanical engineering from Bath University, Rob said that, although he has never actually worked in engineering, his background was crucial for his breakthrough role as a presenter of the 2012 BBC2 documentary series Engineering Giants

“Engineering was always something that spoke to me more than anything else, so it was a natural choice of a degree,” Rob said. “But after I graduated I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do. I ended up working for a non-profit environmental organisation for eight years in project management and business development.”

Perfect platform 

It was in this job that Rob got exposed to media work, acting as a spokesperson for the company. Communication, he said, had been another passion of his, having done programmes for a university radio station in the past.

“Through exposure to that it occurred to me that TV presenting was an actual job,” he said.

Although Engineering Giants came rather by coincidence, the programme proved to be the perfect platform for Rob to combine both of his passions. He has never looked back.

“The BBC were looking for a presenter with an engineering background,” he said. “I went to the audition and got the gig. Through doing the Engineering Giants, I realised that this was exactly what I wanted to do: surrounding myself with these amazing machines and these amazing engineers. It was a massive eye-opening experience.”

The programme allowed him to take a look inside some modern engineering wonders such as the Boeing 747 jumbo jet. Other documentaries about previously unheralded technologies followed. He hosted Channel 5’s The World’s Greatest Bridges and Britain’s Lost Railways, as well as Brunel: The Man Who Built Britain, a documentary about the famous mechanical engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the key figures of the Industrial Revolution. 

Analytical skills 

Having an engineering background helps Rob grasp complex technical topics easily and approach the development of his programmes as if it were an engineering problem.

“It allows me to go to the experts and ask the right questions,” he said. “But it has also given me analytical thinking and problem-solving skills, which is useful in everything I do. There is a lot of work that goes behind the polished, finished article that gets presented on television. There is a lot of piecing together, and having an analytical mind, being able to break everything down, helps me to figure out how to get from A to B in a story.”

Rob hopes that through his work he could excite the public about engineering and improve the profile of the profession.

“I feel that, in the UK, engineering doesn’t get the credit it deserves, unlike in other countries such as the US or France,” he said. “Engineering might not be seen as cool and that’s something I am really keen to change. We need more engineers, and a lot of young people who are considering their future could go on to have really diverse and unique careers in engineering.”

Heritage projects, such as the Top 5 Tanks, could help put things into perspective, said Rob, and help the general public understand that engineering and technology is virtually everywhere in society. 

“The reason why we have the technology and engineering around that we have today is because of what happened in the past,” said Rob. 

“You can trace everything back to a particular moment in time when a certain engineer came up with a particular solution, which then led to how things are done today.”

Rob is also currently filming a new series on Great Historical Ships for Channel 5.

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