Inspiring London's future engineers

Liam Harrison | 25 Jul 2016 | Comments

An Olympic effort: A look back on what we learned from London 2012 about bringing young people into engineering and how we can continue to build on this progress today.

As the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics fast approaches it’s prompted me to look back at London 2012 and reflect on its lasting legacy. As HR business partner for Atkins at the time I was heavily involved in our work around skills, both the development of our staff working on the project and bringing in fresh talent to the engineering industry.

The London Olympics set a new engineering standard, both here in the UK and internationally. It was a fantastic opportunity for Atkins staff working on such a largescale infrastructure project and those lessons learnt and personal developments have been incorporated and benefiting subsequent projects ever since.

However, the skills legacy of London 2012 that I’m most proud of is definitely the impact it’s had on bringing young people into the engineering industry. Inspiring the next generation of engineers to build a sustainable future is critical to both the success of Atkins and wider society. This was emphasised in Atkins’ recent report, ‘The skills deficit: consequences and opportunities for UK infrastructure’. The publication predicts that infrastructure projects in the UK could experience higher costs, delays, or poor decision making and project delivery in coming years due to a lack of scientists, engineers and technicians.

Recognising that one of the key factors in the success of the London Olympics was the impact Atkins and our partners had on the local community, Atkins set up our Pathways to Engineering programme, providing work experience, training and support for young people, parents and teachers in East London during one of the most exciting times for engineering in the UK. The programme is part of Citizen UK’s ‘Good Jobs’ campaign which aims to help 8,000 talented young people from diverse backgrounds access a good job opportunity by 2020 and follows a successful pilot which saw 20 young people complete internships with Atkins, with eight now in full time employment with the company. We are not alone in this and are working alongside other well known partners such as Barts Health Trust, University College Hospital, OMD and JP Morgan who are developing pathways in other sectors.

Sanna Shabir, one of our first London interns, was recently named Apprentice of the Year at the ACE Consultancy and Engineering Awards 2016, gaining recognition for her contribution to projects and STEM work. Sanna is one of many examples of the potential payoff from investing time in students early on, both for their own career development and the wider industry.

The Pathways to Engineering programme is currently operating in schools across North East London but my ambition is to expand the programme to schools across the UK. Just like with the Olympics, the Northern Powerhouse is creating many exciting new projects that we should be getting young engineers involved in. 

So the lesson I learned from the Olympics is that big, exciting infrastructure projects are our best opportunity to engage young people in engineering, and London has plenty of those now. I am proud of the work Atkins carried out for the Olympic Games and in particular the legacy we’ve been able to build by working with schools and students ever since. But I see no reason for us to stop gaining momentum and we hope to extend Pathways to Birmingham soon. There are many exciting and large-scale projects taking shape across the country and we must continue sharing the possibilities of engineering with a young audience, helping them see what a difference engineering can make to the world.