Scarborough Engineering Week

Posted on 6 Dec 2012

In just its third year Scarborough Engineering Week has grown from a small parochial event that attracted 400 school kids to a champion exemplar of how educational engineering outreach events should be done in the regions.

“HEY!” a 12-year old girl shouts in to a decibel meter at the Castle Group stand, while behind more children watch how a Fanuc pick-and-place robot moves small parts precisely. Their peers swarm over a Formula 1 car, quiz the technician about a tube-bending machine made from Lego Technic while other kids try operating the robotic arm taken from a sub-sea roving device.

Companies gave their time for free to show what engineering means to 1,400 school children over three days in October at Scarborough Engineering Week.

“I feel that I have learned more about science and engineering today than in all of my lessons.”

“I thought engineering was dirty and underpaid before the event, now I know it’s a lot cleaner and there are well paid opportunities.”

“It was epic.”

These are a random selection of comments from some of those school children who visited this inspiring outreach event on the North Yorkshire coast.

The brainchild of two local businessmen – Alan Pickering, MD of tube bending machine manufacturer Unison and Peter Wilkinson who runs a local recruitment company – Scarborough Engineering Week was designed to show young people what engineering companies actually do and, in time, inspire them to pursue careers in this field. The event may therefore, act as a talent feeder for a region largely overlooked by qualified engineers and its success in capturing the attention of schools makes it a valuable template for other regions with skills challenges.

The festival pulled in 400 visitors in its first year, 750 visitors in 2011 and 1,400 visitors this year. “We hope very much the show will continue on this trajectory,” said the euphoric Peter Wilkinson while Alan Pickering commented, “Scarborough is a little like an island cast off from the mainland when it comes to recruitment. The quality of life here is high but it is a long way from Hull and York and it is not easy to compete on salaries with some companies further south. Attracting this many visitors is a huge achievement.”

Now organised by the Scarborough Ambassadors Forum in conjunction with Scarborough Borough Council and NYBEP (North Yorkshire Business and Education Partnership), the 2012 event was well supported. Local employer York Potash, which is building a new mine in the area, was headline sponsor while a host of companies including Fanuc, Moog, Festo, Plaxton and Siemens supported the event directly.

Twenty-five exhibitors filled the regal venue of the Spa Grand Hall on the seafront, fully restored to its Victorian glory in 2011 at the cost of £10 million. New exhibitors this year included North Sea Winches, Firmac, Atlas Ward – makers of the London 2012 Olympics’ iconic Orb tower – and F1 in Schools.

A full scale model of the Bloodhound SSC was also on show – though it raised its own engineering challenges for the event organisers. Problems manoeuvring the car, which weighs over three tonnes, into the venue prompted local coach building company Plaxton to fabricate a tailor-made cradle to hoist the car into the building on the eve of the exhibition.

Looking forward, Scarborough will need to exploit this kind engineering excitement for all it is worth. The region is expecting the demand for technical skills to increase greatly when York Potash sets up in the town next year. US oil company Aramco has also been courting for skilled workers in Scarborough, Whitby and the north Yorkshire coast, as it plans for further North Sea oil development.