If you were to look back at the greatest discoveries in science and technology over the past 30 years, you would soon notice that engineering is a key catalyst for innovation.

From the first British astronaut in space in 1991 through to the creation of the Covid-19 vaccine in 2020, engineers throughout history have been problem solvers by nature, creating solutions to everyday challenges that are essential in securing a brighter, more sustainable future for everyone.

Engineering challenges us to question how and why things work in a certain way, and whether we can come up with a better way of doing it. I believe engineering is an essential subject to teach as part of the curriculum as it encourages students to be creative critical thinkers, a skill which benefits all aspects of life.

Whilst there is a greater recognition of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in the curriculum today, the challenge lies in putting engineering into context and helping students make the connection between classroom learning and its real-life applications.

Providing more opportunities for students to experience first-hand the diverse world of engineering will nurture important life skills and inspire the next generation of engineering talent.

At George Watson’s College, we find the best way to encourage pupils to get involved is to offer a range of real-life based engineering experiences in school. For example, we run weekly clubs where pupils work together in teams on engineering challenges, and they really enjoy the practical hands-on nature of these challenges. With Cop26 putting sustainability high on the agenda, some of our senior students are working on a ‘green power’ electric racing car project.

Younger students have also been involved in the ‘Scalextric in Schools’ competition. Both of these initiatives offer brilliant ways to engage children with important issues such as climate change and discover how engineering can provide sustainable, clean solutions.

Engineering is all about discovery, and so we’ve been supporting our students and other young people in the wider local community to pursue their passion for STEM through extracurricular programmes and scholarships.

One of these initiatives, the Arkwright Engineering Scholarship, is a fully-funded scheme which provides young people with a range of benefits, from work experience and professional mentorship with engineering giants to support with personal development and progression.

It’s important that students have the freedom to explore their own areas of interest and work on individual engineering projects. For example, over the years we have seen students work on an exciting range of projects with the scholarship, including everything from a breakfast cereal sorting machine to developing their own drones.

Students love the opportunity to become real-life inventors as they get to create a viable solution to a problem of their choosing. Opportunities like these are a brilliant way to spark curiosity and empower students to take an engineer’s approach to the world around them.

Unfortunately, there continues to be misconceptions about what engineers do and we still need to work hard to challenge ideas about who can work in the industry. Immersive learning opportunities can break down these boundaries by giving students direct experience, proving they can achieve anything they set their minds to.

Each year we sponsor a number of scholarships for students in local state schools, which is a great way to help widen access to engineering for all children and young people in the community. There are so many talented STEM students in the area, so it’s important for schools to collaborate, bring aspiring engineers together and encourage knowledge-sharing and teamwork. I always tell my students there is so much they can gain from an engineering education, which they can carry forward into their university and apprenticeship applications.

Real-life learning opportunities can open many doors for students in the world of work and beyond, giving them the skills, confidence and knowledge to thrive in a range of sectors.