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Skills gap: Creating the future stars of engineering

Susan Scurlock, Founder and Chief Executive, Primary Engineer,

Getting children to learn practical engineering skills now will help to secure future prosperity (Credit: Primary Engineer)
Getting children to learn practical engineering skills now will help to secure future prosperity (Credit: Primary Engineer)

Susan Scurlock, Founder and Chief Executive of Primary Engineer, explains the organisation’s success in giving schoolchildren hands-on experiences of engineering


From its beginning in 2005, Primary Engineer has advocated engineering from as early an age as possible. Its methods of training teachers, linking them to industry and bringing engineers into the classroom have been described as a “nice little initiative”. Now, 2017 is the year when Primary Engineer grew up.

In January, the University of Strathclyde accredited the Primary Engineer Postgraduate Certificate in Engineering STEM, a year-long, part-time master’s level course. Teachers interview engineers and develop strategies to embed engineering in the classroom, evaluating impact. This action research has enabled Primary Engineer to create its own base, leading to continued improvement of all its activities. Teachers work together from all areas of education, not just primary, but pre-school, secondary and college lecturers. The postgrad certificate has received an Excellence Award from the General Teaching Council in Scotland – good news for the 35 teachers on the course.

Primary Engineer has featured in: the Scottish government’s skills plans; is working with the Advanced Forming Research Centre at Strathclyde University; trade associations; universities; councils; and blue-chip companies. And, with the bedrock support of the IMechE, Primary Engineer is focusing education on engineering in the classroom on a local and national scale.

In 2017 the Ministry of Defence completed its review of STEM programmes in the UK. It concluded that, to ensure that the UK had the STEM skills it required for generations to come, it would partner with Tomorrow’s Engineers, STEM Learning and Primary Engineer.

In Primary Engineer’s home town of Burnley, in partnership with the council, AMS Neve and the Careers and Enterprise Company, the Making it in Burnley programme is engaging every pupil in the region, linking to Burnley College and the University of Central Lancashire.

Through the drive of Mark Crabtree, an engineer with two Oscars, an Emmy and a Grammy no less, Burnley has become a byword for engineering education partnerships and economic growth. Crabtree is chairman of the Burnley Bondholders, a group set up to encourage enterprise in the town. As he says, “for a successful future for our young people, our borough and our country, we need to add back into the curriculum those hugely valuable, transferable and rewarding skills which hands-on engineering brings to any future career. These have been lost in recent years yet were the bedrock of Britain’s historic successes”.

In Glasgow, our work in some of the most deprived parts of the city is also linked to the council and Allied Vehicles, an award-winning company. The firm’s chairman Gerry Facenna commented: “Practical engineering skills are hugely important to productivity and prosperity and it’s more important than ever that we get youngsters thinking about engineering challenges from an early age. I was fortunate to get ‘hands-on’ when I was a kid helping out in my dad’s garage or fixing up old motorbikes.

“Much of what I picked up then has helped me create products in my own business. Not many kids nowadays get that sort of early experience, which is why we’re backing Primary Engineer – so that we can discover future stars of the engineering world.”

Primary Engineer has come a long way over the past 12 years and is much more than the “nice little initiative” it has been described as. You should just see our plans for 2018! 


Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
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