Motivating tomorrow's engineers today

You've got to hand it to James Dyson. Not only is the man a truly brilliant entrepreneurial engineer who made millions with his invention of the bagless vacuum cleaner, he is also someone who cares about nurturing the young engineers of tomorrow. He's also a man not afraid to tell it exactly how it is regarding the future of engineering.

Britain, says Dyson, is no longer a centre for innovative engineering. Gone, in his opinion, is the spirit of Brunel and the technical imagination that created designs like London's Tower Bridge, the Harrier vertical take-off jet, and the hovercraft. Dyson is convinced that unless Britain rejuvenates a passion for engineering in its young students, many future engineering jobs will float away to Mumbai or Shanghai. He may well have a point. Currently, China is creating 15 times more young engineers than Britain.

But maybe that engineering passion does exist in some of Britain's school pupils? In a recent survey, 60% said they would like to study engineering at school if they were given a chance. Dyson identified this need and is about to give them that chance. The Dyson School of Design Innovation will open in 2008, providing places for about 2500 youngsters. The James Dyson Foundation is putting up €32 million, with the UK Government providing the balance. The principle aim of the school is to educate and encourage potential engineers, and to demonstrate that technical innovations must engage with financial reality if they are to prove commercially successful.

In addition to engineering skills, Dyson will also need to instill into his protégés the high levels of personal resilience needed to make the technical journey from first prototype to successful finished product. He's well-versed on the subject: It took him 5127 prototypes to perfect his G-Force, bagless upright vacuum cleaner and its spinning technology that creates constant suction. Well worth the effort, though—his product is now sold in 39 countries.

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