Making IT relevant

Posted on 21 Jul 2010 by The Manufacturer

Autodesk talks about its mission to support industry skills development in universities following the company's sponsorship of the IMechE Formula Student Competition 2010. TM’s Jane Gray speaks to Autodesk’s EMEA education director.

The IMechE Formula Student event is the premier competition in the UK for students of engineering. It is a fiercely contested international competition which is highly demanding in terms of the theoretical engineering knowledge it demands but, more tangibly, in the challenge it sets to put that knowledge into practice.

Autodesk have sponsored Formula Student for the past three years now but, as Don Carlson, EMEA education director at Autodesk explains their presence at the final competition and judging days, is just the tip of the iceberg.

“This is part of a much broader, holistic relationship that we are pursuing, not only with the IMechE, but also with the universities involved; the students, their faculties and the partners from industry that support them. We are trying to create a holistic partnership so that we can understand the developing requirements of students and provide the right solutions and backbones for them to learn on and to support the implementation of their studies.”

The work that Autodesk are undertaking in their education programme is characterised by collaboration and dialogue. The aim is to let the increasingly technology savvy engineering student community guide software development with a balancing influence from industry and academia to ensure that solutions are encouraging the use of the right skills and applying them in the right way. There is also an awareness of furthering the employability of students in readiness for their entry into the job market.

“We do a lot of work around training and certification to get both students and faculties better connected to real world industry. Of course we make our products available to our student community to support this process. If we have a partnership with their university they can download our software for free online so they can experiment with joining up the training we give with their regular course learning.
“We are diligent about working with industry to make sure that the training and capability we are developing is relevant and the message we get from these partnerships, and very strongly from automotive and motorsport, is that technology and technology skills are becoming increasingly important to the way the way products are developed and refined.

“As we heard at the opening ceremony for Formula Student a large factor in this trend – event in industries like Formula 1 – is because companies are under pressure to cut costs through better virtualisation, 3D modelling and simulation.”
Carlson explains however that their work is not always easy. “Sometimes in academia you find a certain resistance to change when the use of technology starts creeping into the curriculum. However, with the competition that is now evident between universities to attract and retain students is forcing departments to think about what they are doing to make their courses relevant. The Formula Student event is fantastic for that because it allows creative students to take their concepts and ideas and make them a reality. Using the latest technology to support that – not to act is the key driver – is an important aspect of the student’s experience. They expect it and if universities are not careful to provide that experience they will find their ability to attract and retain the interest of students decline as a consequence.”

On being asked what key skills he thought needed to be given attention in order to make the most of budding talent and emerging technology Carlson diverged slightly from the standard industry gripe about the quality of STEM skills. While acknowledging that they were important he also says “there is a key issue around creativity – engineers don’t tend to think of themselves as ‘creative types’, especially if they are engineering a new factory conveyor belt or something similar – but the fact is that engineering is all about problem solving and it is important that people are creative in the way they go about solving problems. The demands of sustainability and green technology will push ever more challenges into this area.”

For more information about Autodesk’s education initiatives and partnerships please visit