Big Bang Fair – if you’re not involved, why not?

Engineering UK CEO Paul Jackson explains the excitement, fun and importance of Big Bang in connecting young minds with industry.

Last month I found myself on a bright red BBC sofa at some daft time in the morning with a couple of TV presenters and two very bright young people, the newly crowned UK Young Scientist of the Year Sarah Sobka and Colum McNally the 2015 UK Young Engineer of the Year.

Colum, from Newry, Northern Ireland, impressed National Science and Engineering Competition (NSEC) judges with his ‘Agri-Hammer’ - a hydraulic machine inspired by his experience growing up on a farm. Engineers see problems and look for innovative solutions and Colum is no exception. I hear he’s already had various approaches about bringing it to market. We wish him well and I’m looking forward to the day when Colum’s successor has some great piece of kit that improves construction safety and reduces costs too. That would be great for raising the profile of the industry and the people in infrastructure.

"There’s no doubt that The Big Bang Fair is a fun day out, but it’s so much more. It gives young people the chance to speak to leading scientists and engineers and to see for themselves the range of exciting careers that their studies can lead to."

The NSEC finals take place annually at The Big Bang Fair, which sees around 70,000 young visitors come to the NEC in Birmingham to discover the hugely varied opportunities available in engineering, technology and science. While the fair focuses on inspiring the next generation, it’s also about being inspired by the youth of today.

The fair hosted the finals of the Transport Systems Catapult’s All Aboard competition, which invited teenagers to come up with innovative ways to make buses more accessible for people with visual or hearing impairments. The next step for winner, 17 year old Daria Buszta from Nottingham, is to work with local businesses to develop a working prototype of her ViBus wristband design. The wristband, which is low-cost and adjustable, vibrates when the passenger is close to their chosen stop, using Bluetooth to link with the driver’s ticket machine. It’s this type of innovative thinking that changes the world around us and inspires others to find creative solutions to problems.

There’s no doubt that The Big Bang Fair is a fun day out, but it’s so much more. It gives young people the chance to speak to leading scientists and engineers and to see for themselves the range of exciting careers that their studies can lead to.

David Cameron visited the fair again this year following the announcement of a £67M package to get more new maths and science teachers – 2,500 new recruits and upskilling for 15,000 non-specialist teachers. Having a great teacher makes a lasting impression on young people and as we’ve been calling for an investment in science and maths teaching for a long time, it’s good to finally see some progress on that front. Perhaps maths and science teacher numbers will go the same way as apprenticeship targets and become part of an electoral bidding war.

Whatever the result of the general election, companies across the country will be keen to show the world that Britain is open for business and CBI has featured infrastructure concerns strongly in its plan for the first 100 days of the new Government. It has also called for a review of 14-18 education with a view to scrapping GCSEs and to creating vocational A levels. I’d certainly follow any such review with great interest as we know we need to double the number of graduates and of apprentices entering engineering.

The Big Bang Fair is about building a talent pipeline and is an unprecedented and unparalleled collaboration between industry, Government, education and the wider STEM community.  We are proud of the enthusiasm for and commitment to the fair and what it sets out to achieve.

It is only possible thanks to our lead sponsor BAE Systems and major sponsors GSK, Rolls-Royce and Siemens, who really get into the spirit of the fair. They offer highly engaging activities at the event and their staff (including apprentices and graduates) are on site telling young visitors about engineering or science and giving them an idea into what their job is really like. It’s fantastic too to have professional engineering institutions such as the ICE and IET onsite sharing their insights and enthusiasm.

These professionals and other volunteers, young scientists and engineers released from their day jobs, came to inspire the next generation. Over 200 companies and organisations are involved. If your company was part of that this year you’ll understand how important it is. If it wasn’t, you should ask why not?

The Big Bang Fair is rewarding for everyone involved. Emma Bartley summed it up well when writing about it in The Times recently, saying ‘both visitors and exhibitors make a lasting impression on each other’.