Primary Engineer – helping to nurture the next generation of makers and innovators

Posted on 6 Sep 2019 by The Manufacturer

Dr. Susan Scurlock MBE, and CEO of educational body Primary Engineers, believes inspiring a love of learning, exploring, creating and innovation in young children is the best way to encourage and develop the next generation of manufacturers and engineers. Neil Fullbrook reports.

Engineers dream up and design stuff and manufacturers make the stuff that engineers come up with. It’s a simple equation.

So, why is it such a hard concept to fathom when it comes to inspiring the next few generations of engineers and manufacturers?

Schoolchildren Programming Robot Together Stem Educational Class - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Why is it so hard to inspire the next few generations of engineers and manufacturers? – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Dr. Susan Scurlock says that no one knows what the five-year-olds of today (the engineers or manufacturers in 20 years) will be designing or making.

It’s a pretty confusing career trajectory for anyone with aspirations of entering the sector.

On top of that, the idea of ‘getting young people into manufacturing’ is misleading. You don’t hear many people getting out of bed in the morning to go to work as ‘a manufacturer’.

So, how can we expect children to be inspired to enter the sector if we try to white label it?

You only have to look at how far we’ve come technologically in the short 12 years since the iPhone was launched to see the progression of ‘sexy tech’. But, would children naturally connect the process of designing and then building ‘lickable’ tech as Steve Jobs called it?

Ok, it’s an extreme reference – not all manufacturers build iPhones – but it highlights an important issue.

This is part of a series of articles about the skills crisis facing the UK manufacturing sector.

The series examines some of the serious problems affecting skills and training – and some of the positive initiatives aimed at producing a manufacturing workforce fit for the future. 


Getting children interested in engineering (and by extension manufacturing) from the age of three is nothing new for Susan and her team. She’s created a web of educational initiatives that tap into the very fabric of budding genius.

For her recently launched twin ventures of the Institution of Primary Engineers and the Institution of Secondary Engineers, capturing, nurturing and hand-holding children through to university is now top of the agenda.

Inspiring competencies

Across the entirety of Primary Engineer’s programme, it will have engaged with 70,000+ children across the UK - image courtesy of Primary Engineer.
Across the entirety of Primary Engineer’s programme, it will have engaged with 70,000+ children across the UK – image courtesy of Primary Engineer.

“It’s not necessarily just about getting and keeping kids interested as they get older,” Susan said.

“As a young child they might not have an interest in engineering or manufacturing, but we can inspire them to engage in projects that help them develop skills and competencies that are going to serve them in the future, a future which we can only guess at.”

“Many of the roles they may enter don’t exist at this precise moment in time, so inspiring them towards those roles is not always the key. Giving them a love of learning and exploring, creating, being innovative is where we need to focus,” she added.

It’s not all about digital

“Apple, Google and Facebook have been firmly placed in the psyche of kids from an early age – kids aspire to work for them. If manufacturers could potentially establish their brands in a similar way to encourage a diverse skills base then that’s a great starting point,” said Susan.

“There are obvious skills such as using data, but there are other much more fundamental skills – problem finding or mending something before it’s broken, and this particular skill moves hand in hand with others like observation and creativity,” she continued.

“Empathy and compassion, helping others, seeing the ‘big picture’ perspective of their actions, and having a sense of place and challenging the norm. These engineers in the making will need to recognise that there are no boundaries to who can work in any sector – other than aptitude, tolerance and understanding. These are the skills that will be at the forefront of the new generation of workers,” she added.

Individual interests

The two Institutions have been structured to enable empowerment. “The division structure we are aiming to build – one of our programmes, STATWARS being an example – is as a digital hub where kids (boys and girls) can work on projects together, with established engineers adding into the mix.

School Children Classroom STEM - Stock
For children to take up a role, they have to be aware it exists – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

“The essential aspect of this is that it will have nothing to do with gender or diversity; it will be led by the individual’s interest, ability and thirst for knowledge – a truly level playing field,” said Susan.

And when it comes to selling engineering and manufacturing to children and teenagers, Susan feels there is a sea-change in the messaging that the sector is using.

“At the end of the day if you want kids to take up a role, they have to be aware it exists, and not as a one-off visit. We’re taking about a sustained understanding of the industrial sector and how it fits with the subjects and skills they learn in school.

“But there is a role for manufacturers in spreading the word, a consistent message and programme of involvement that crosses all sectors,” she added.

Capturing interests

Across the entirety of Primary Engineer’s programme, this year it will have engaged with more than  70,000 children across the UK.

“We’ve seen world-changing inventions and ideas sprout from primary and secondary school children. Our role as a sector is to capture this innate interest, hold it gently in our hands and nurture it until the penny drops,” said Susan.

Supported by a strong teacher training programme and an active mentor programme from industry – which is a fundamental driver in creating a portal into the sector, inspiring children to investigate the buzz from creating something new and then encouraging them to hold onto that feeling – is just part of the journey.

Opening factory gates

Many young people will have outdated stereotypical views on industry, whether it be the steel works or chemical plants, so it is important to expose them to much more, such as electronics and clothing,

and educate them on the journey of the products they use every day.

Manufacturers can provide an environment where children feel safe to explore interests outside of the standard curriculum framework by getting involved, providing mentors and apprenticeships, and contributing to the language and messaging around a career in manufacturing.

Offering experiences that engage young people with different types of industry and break barriers is a good first step.

Primary Engineer – what it does, and why

Susan Scurlock MBE, CEO and founder, Primary Engineer Programmes.
Susan Scurlock MBE, CEO and founder, Primary Engineer Programmes.

Primary Engineer has, over the past 12 years, created an engineering curriculum that spans Early Years, Primary, Secondary and Further Education institutions.

Its core aims include the development of children and young people through engagement with engineering, the promotion of engineering careers for pupils through inspiring programmes and competitions, and working to address the gender imbalance in science and engineering.

Primary Engineer developed a ‘STEM by Stealth’ approach to education which enables children and pupils to engage with practical maths and science alongside creative problem solving and literacy.

The positive impact on individual children and pupils’ self-awareness and confidence through teamwork, and improvement in social skills through engagement with project work and links to the wider world and engineers, has been evidenced by teachers engaged on our Master’s Level PGCert.

The Primary Engineer programmes

Primary Engineer is a not-for-profit educational organisation. Its approach brings engineering and engineers into primary and secondary classrooms and curricula. We aim to inspire children, pupils and teachers through continued professional development, whole class projects, and the “If you were an engineer, what would you do?” competition.

More information can be found at and

“If you were an engineer, what would you do?” is a UK-wide annual competition open to 3-19 year-olds, which asks them to interview engineers so they can design a solution to a problem the engineers have identified. More information can be found at

In the 2018/2019 academic year over 60,000 pupils across the UK entered the competition. The competition is addressing diversity with a 50/50 gender split for entries. In fact, 58% of last year’s winners were female.

Pupil designs are selected and made by university partners, bringing their inventions to life. These are then unveiled at awards events and public exhibitions across the country.