Encouraging the next generation of railway engineers

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One of the hottest topics in the rail industry is the ‘skills gap’ and how we can inspire the next generation, from all backgrounds, to consider a career in rail engineering.

There are many future challenges for the rail industry, including innovation, digitalisation, decarbonisation and sheer demand. We need bright and inquiring minds to help solve these challenges and to lead the way in railway engineering for the future.

At the University of Birmingham, we see it as part of our mission to inspire the next generation. One of the longest running collaborations at the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) has been with the Smallpeice Trust. The Smallpeice Trust is a registered charity, which gives young people support to explore science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses in university settings and with other corporate partners.

Our successful relationship with the charity was initiated by Professor Felix Schmid, has been running for nine years, coordinated and led by Stephen Kent and Joy Grey.

Every year, a group of 16 and 17-year-old students visit the University for a three-day Digital Railway Engineering Course and stay in Halls of Residence to explore what studying at university would be like.

Stephen Kent said:“The railway sector is a great place to work. Doing initiatives like these really help to inspire young people and get them to think about the exciting opportunities a career in the rail industry might hold.”

The course included introductory lectures to railway engineering from BCRRE academics and representatives from Siemens, who helped to fund the course. Students also got the opportunity to hear from young people who are working in the rail industry about their experiences and to mix with like-minded peers.

The centrepiece of the course were the challenge sessions. Half of the students worked on a crash challenge while the other half worked on a control challenge. Students worked in teams to compete against each other. Each team had to create a train using a brief from a fictitious client. They had to consider software, budget, aesthetics, project management and put their team working skills to the test!

In his closing comments to the group, Professor Felix Schmid told the students that they should all be proud of themselves and highlighted all that they had achieved in such a short space of time. One of his key messages to the group was to never assume and to always ask for help if you are unsure. Professor Schmid also emphasised how important teamwork was and reminded the group that as engineers you will always have to work with people and learning how to do that effectively is a key skill.

The two winning groups of the challenges

On the last evening of the course, the students and contributors followed an invitation of Professor Andy Schofield of the College of EPS and Nick Dunne of Siemens Mobility to enjoy a formal dinner at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Before the meal, the groups showed off their trains and prospectuses. During and after the meal, they listened to short presentations by Nick Dunne, three Siemens apprentices and three railway engineers, Emily Hall (in her first post), Liz Conroy (mid-career) and Bridget Eickhoff (very senior). All spoke briefly and to the point!

Lisa Foster, Chief Operating Officer, The Smallpeice Trust said: “The Smallpeice Trust have been delighted to work once again with the University of Birmingham on the Digital Railway course. These courses provide a great opportunity for students to experience a taste of university life, as well as focus in on an area of engineering they may be interested in pursuing as a career. At the same time students are developing valuable life skills in project working, communication, teamwork and leadership through the fantastic hands on projects they get to make and test. We are also grateful for the support from Siemens to make this course happen and in providing additional real life industry perspectives.”

Find out more about our Outreach activities at the University of Birmingham.

2 thoughts on “Encouraging the next generation of railway engineers”

  1. Good afternoon,

    We love your blog and this lovely piece about our Railway in Engineering course is great.

    I wondered if you would mind if we shared it on our Smallpeice Trust news page please, obviously crediting it back to you?


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