The Smallpeice Trust's forthcoming event in Belfast aims to inspire young people and also redress the gender imbalance in STEM careers


Northern Ireland is renowned for its engineering innovation. As well as a rich and proud heritage in shipbuilding, it was Irish engineers who brought the world the hydraulic ploughing system, cavity magnetron, electric tricycle and even the ejector seat, among many other marvellous inventions.

The Smallpeice Trust have chosen Queen’s University Belfast as the host for a major education event: Engineering Experience Northern Ireland, which takes place from July 25-17.

The Trust have a mission to inspire young people aged 8 to 18 to embrace Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and nurture the next generation of innovative engineers, with a strong focus on residential engineering courses and in-school STEM Days.

Dr Kevin P Stenson, CEO at the Trust, which incorporates Arkwright Engineering Scholarships, notes: “The key thing students will take away from Engineering Experience Northern Ireland is learning new skills, both technical and soft in nature.

Impartial Reporter:

“From a technical perspective, there are three elements. One is focused on space, one on electrical and one on cyber security. In soft skills, each of the projects is a team-based challenge. By their very nature, they will involve communication, teamwork and presentation. Inevitably, some things won’t work first time so they’ll have to build their resilience.

“There are 50 students on the course: 25 males and 25 females. So, in addition to the teamwork, enjoying the day, there’s also a social side with sports and quizzes in the evenings. I think they’ll have fantastic fun, all with the ultimate aim of exploring possible careers in engineering.”

This 50-50 gender balance is no accident of accounting. Gender equality, as well as diversity in all its forms, is integral to the Smallpeice ethos of inspiring and enabling opportunities in engineering for all.

Impartial Reporter:

Dr Kevin P Stenson believes diversity in engineering will boost performance in the industry


“Only 16% of engineers in the UK are female,” Dr Stenson points out, “yet we have a chronic shortage of engineering talent in the UK. Around 100,000 new engineers are required by the industry every year.

“Despite this recruitment challenge we’re really only appealing to half the population. We’re doing well, if you can call it that, in bringing males into the sector, but there is a real challenge when you have such a shortage of young female talent pursuing careers the country desperately needs.”

Dr Stenson believes diversity drives high performance, pointing out, if you have a team that is only male, you’ll get a very male-dominated view of the world.

“If you look at other under-represented groups, including people from less advantaged backgrounds or different ethnic minority backgrounds, that diversity, that difference in thinking, drives high performance and ultimately creates better products for the benefit of society.”

Engineering Experience Northern Ireland is also supported by Thales in the UK, a global company with 80,000 employees in 68 countries, including a base in Belfast.

Dr Stenson says: “It’s great to be able to work with a company like Thales, who will have really good role models at the course. That’s important. All the evidence shows, if you can have real role models who engage with children, and specifically female role models, female students are more likely to consider engineering.

“Thales have a clear purpose, which is to create a safer world. That’s a message that can inspire young people. Engineering genuinely offers young people a route through which they can change the world.”

Impartial Reporter:

It is estimated the UK requires 100,000 new engineers each year – but only 16 percent of new recruits are female


Another benefit of the event is the opportunity for hands-on activities in a safe space.

“Young people can see they can make things and explore practical skills with the academic skills that sit alongside them. The children will make radios as part of an electrical project and experience success – at the end they’ll have a radio that works.”

There will also be Q&As by engineers, discussing the realities of an engineering career. However, the learning and mentoring do not simply stop after the event in Belfast.

“Each year there is an opportunity for children to take part in a sequence of courses,” Dr Stenson says. “As children get older, they can get more in-depth. So we have things like future cities, cybersecurity and aerospace courses.”

Dr Stenson acknowledges more can be done to ensure we are continually increasing the number and diversity of young people who want to stay on a pathway that makes an engineering career possible.

He says: “I want to live on a planet where I can say: ‘Here are two females who’ve changed the world through engineering, and here are two males.’

“I get to meet young people all the time through our Smallpeice Trust programmes, and when we do our Arkwright interviews, these are brilliant 16 to 18 year olds. They just blow me away by how intelligent and innovative they are.

“I look at them and think: ‘One of these days I’m going to read about someone who’s changed the world . . . and it’s going to be one of you!’.”

Click here for more information on the Belfast course


Trust in charity to support students

Dr Cosby D P Smallpeice, a self-taught engineer, donated £1.6 million to set up The Smallpeice Trust in 1966.

Supported by universities, institutes and corporations, its aim is to give young people the support and guidance to “bring big ideas to life” through science, technology, engineering and maths.

Dr Kevin P Stenson joined as CEO in 2013. Since then, the Trust has tripled its reach to nearly 60,000 students annually, raising female participation from 32% to 50%.

Dr Stenson’s commitment to widening participation and boosting diversity was recognised in 2018, as a finalist in the (Women in Science and Engineering) WISE Man of the Year Award.

The merger of The Smallpeice Trust and Arkwright Scholarships Trust was finalised in 2018, enabling the organisation to provide truly transformational journeys for young people.