F1 in Schools features in The Manufacturer

Jonny Williamson, a journalist for The Manufacturer, looks at how F1 in Schools is helping to change the perceptions of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Read the full article at themanufacturer.com

In his keynote speech opening last month’s STEMtech 2015 conference, president of Boeing UK and Ireland, Sir Michael Arthur summed up the landscape perfectly.

“Put bluntly, there are simply not enough young men and women choosing to study science, technology, engineering and maths at school and university,” he declared.

“The UK produces around 12,000 engineering graduates a year – only 20% of the number needed to fill the job vacancies in this country. This is a global challenge to the UK, we cannot afford any complacency…there is serious competition out there and we are falling behind.”

In an effort to help change the perceptions of STEM subjects, there exists a social enterprise – supported by industry partners, F1 management and Bernie Ecclestone himself – providing an exciting yet challenging educational experience leveraging the dynamic appeal of Formula One.

F1 in Schools creates a learning environment for young people to develop an informed view about careers in engineering; Formula One; science; marketing, and technology.

Autodesk’s global strategic partnership manager for education, Matthew Bell describes the beauty of the F1 in Schools programme as being “cross-curriculum” – a world apart from the typically siloed STEM lessons being taught in UK classrooms today.

With Autodesk recently announcing that all of its software is now freely available to educational institutions across the globe, Bell explains that the company’s aim is, “to inspire the next generation of digital designers and enable young people to make things, especially those who haven’t had access to the necessary tools in the past.

“Students are able to use industry tools and learn real-world skills that help not only strengthen their own career prospects, but those of the wider industry.”

This is of crucial importance, with The Manufacturer’s own 2015 Annual Manufacturing Report finding that nearly half of respondents (48%) considered 16-year-old school leavers as being either “poorly” or “very poorly” prepared for work.

Bell laments the stigma that is still associated with science, engineering and wider STEM careers, something he puts down as people preserving “traditional views” of such careers and not being aware of how far the industry has progressed.

“The great thing about F1 in Schools is that it promotes the fact that this isn’t a dirty pathway to pursue, it’s very advanced, cutting-edge, technology-focused and dynamic.

“The way design and technology currently sits within the national curriculum, it could be argued that they aren’t being promoted as important as science and maths, and that’s a concern. Technology and engineering provide the practical base to test principles and ideas in a real world context.”

A contributing factor in the nation’s skills shortage is the lack of STEM engagement among young women, with a lack of positive female role models in industry cited as a contributing factor.

According to the latest research, just 7% of the UK’s engineering workforce is female – the EU’s lowest figure. On a more positive note, F1 in Schools has an average registration rate from young women of 34% – a figure that is pretty much replicated across all participating countries.

According to Denford, the level of engineering at the national and world finals is “simply staggering”, with every team utilising advanced 3D solid modelling software; aerodynamic testing; wind tunnels; air flow analysis, and four-axis CNC machining.

It may sound complicated and daunting to the unfamiliar, but both Denford and Bell reiterate how easy it is for a school to become involved in the programme, with a wealth of resources available to guide both students and teachers.

“We’ve established manufacturing centres around the UK which will make the car for teams wanting to get involved,” says Denford. “Schools don’t need their own CNC machines – though in an ideal world they would – and the cost of involvement is as little as £8, the price of the model block used to manufacture each vehicle.”

The programme plays a vital role and is totally unique, concludes Denford, not least because the F1 teams see it as natural feeders into their organisations, “After all, we are delivering the next Adrian Newey, Pat Symonds and Claire Williams [chief technical officers for Red Bull Racing F1 and Williams F1, and deputy team principal of Williams F1 respectively].”

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