Chemical engineers are some of the most in-demand graduates in the UK, with some of the best career prospects of any subject. They’re an invaluable part of the workforce, needed across a wide range of industries — from medicine and energy, to food and transport — for developing and innovating sustainable processes to transform raw materials into everyday products.
There’s no shortage of rewarding and purposeful roles in this field, drawing on a mix of skills, including creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving. So, how can more young people be inspired to pursue a career in chemical engineering?
Sophie, Paul and Cameron are part of an outreach programme developed and run by the Institution of Chemical Engineers. As part of ITN Business’ programme, Engineering a Sustainable World, reporter Jonathan Gibson spoke to the young engineers (and some enthusiastic school children) while visiting Northlands Primary School in Rugby, to see how they’re inspiring the next generation.
“When I was young, I had this outreach in my school and it was amazing,” says Paul Michael, one of the three Process Engineers. “It gave me direction and inspired me to study engineering, and here I am today as a chemical engineer. So, I feel this is a way I can give back to some of these kids, and inspire them as well.”
As part of the visit, children were able to spend time with the ‘real life engineers’, ask questions and participate in activities that got them thinking about the different stages of a manufacturing process — in this case, turning tomatoes into ketchup — and the role that engineers play each step of the way.
“Of course we want to inspire, but the fact that they worked out their own answer is what’s important,” says Nigel Hirst, President of the Institute of Chemical Engineers. “We want to encourage kids to do that, and to get the pleasure; that excitement of discovery and of making things, so it’s really ingrained in them, so they’ve got a real hunger to do that in their careers.”
And gauging from the children’s comments, the scheme is proving effective.
“I want to be a chemical engineer because I want to help make water cleaner,” explains one young student to our reporter.
“I want to be a chemical engineer because I want to help feed poorer countries and make life-saving medicines,” says another.
“I want to build fast, easy to run, safe and cheaper transportation for people,” announces a third.
Process Engineer Sophie Murray recognises the value of having real engineers in the classroom, sharing their experiences and perspectives; it’s a unique and memorable experience for the children.
“I know that when I was at school, I didn’t necessarily have the opportunities to get to speak to real life engineers or real life scientists, and things like that, so I think it’s great we’re able to get into schools and do this,” says Sophie.
Teacher Louise Hunt agrees. “I think as well as presenting engineers and scientists to them face to face, it’s giving a lot of children an aspiration,” she says. “Chemical engineering might not be a career path that they’ve ever thought of before, and now they’ve seen it for real. They’ve seen people talking about it and engaging with it; talking about their actual jobs day to day. I think a lot of the children will be enthused and inspired to perhaps follow that career themselves.”