With the Government’s ambition of Net Zero by 2050 looming, and with it a staunch commitment to decarbonisation and a “green industrial revolution”, engineers are set to play a key role in delivering the UK’s sustainability commitments.
However, according to recent research, the sector is short of more than 14,000 engineering undergraduates every year*; with 124,000 engineers and technicians needed this year alone to meet 2024 demand*.
MEng (Hons) Agricultural Engineering student, Rhodri Williams, believes the Net Zero goal simply won’t be possible without future engineers. He’s confident, however, that with the right placement and knowledge exchange opportunities, our Harper Adams graduates are set to revolutionise the world of sustainability.
*Engineering UK, November 2022.
Having received the coveted CLAAS placement and scholarship last year, Rhodri spent much of 2022 in Harsewinkel, Germany, working as part of the company’s cutting-edge technology efforts.
“I was part of the CLAAS Advanced Developments Department, working on the future of combine harvesting technology. We were mostly working a few years in advance — at least — and trying to match future technologies to current issues.
“What I realised at CLAAS was, without engineers most sectors won’t get very far – just look around the room and think of all the things you use that require some form of engineering. Lots of engineers, especially Agricultural Engineers, are going to have to feed the world and design, develop and produce the machinery for the agricultural industry to achieve this. It’s all about real-life applications for me and seeing the technology you produce make a difference; especially in regard to Net Zero.”
Originally from Whitland, south west Wales, Rhodri became Chairman of the Harper Engineering Society during his fourth year of study, refocusing the club’s efforts on knowledge exchange and employer relations.
“I was actually at CLAAS when I got contacted about the opportunity – it was such a great honour to be elected Chairman.
“My aim now is to build on key relationships between the engineering department, its students and potential employers. The value of your placement for example. That experience, it’s second to none – you can’t put a value on it! Some of the people I’ve spoken to through events and working at CLAAS have potentially set me up for life. What we want to achieve with the Engineering Society is to encourage employers to take on placement students and for everyone to have that opportunity to share knowledge.
“The future of engineering is the engineers studying now, both in schools and universities. Ultimately, we’re the ones who have got to rise to the ever-changing challenge for the future of our planet.”
Despite obvious demand within the sector, according to Engineering UK, only 39% of young people aged 14 to 16 said they ‘knew what to do next in order to become an engineer’. Rhodri, however, believes a recent NFU project he champions, Farmers for Schools, might just have the answer.
“I’m going into schools in London and Manchester to try to get students interested in agriculture and engineering. I think one of the issues is the stigma surrounding the sector. People feel they need to be from farming backgrounds or skillsets and it’s just not true. Projects like this one from the NFU are trying to bridge that knowledge gap and show just how many opportunities are out there.
“Having those conversations is working, too! On our last November Open Day, two students who I’d previously spoken to, came to Harper – and it was all because of this project.”
When he isn’t encouraging the next generation of engineers, Rhodri is busy finishing his integrated Masters degree in Agricultural Engineering.
“I absolutely love the practical side of my course” he says.
“How it works at Harper is, you learn the fundamentals in the classroom and then in the tutorial sessions you go out and get under the machine to see how those techniques are actually applied in real life. Again, it’s all about putting theory into practice for me – it means you try new things, have a better grasp of what you’re being taught. I think the sector is going to need engineers like that.”
But what’s next for Rhodri after Harper? The 22-year-old hopes to be leading the charge for sustainable agriculture.
“I want to be at the forefront of agricultural engineering that’s for sure. It would be great to get involved with more projects that will impact the next 10 to 15 years of engineering – like Net Zero. It’s what I’m passionate about, and Harper is helping me achieve that.
“I’d recommend Harper to anyone; the opportunities you are exposed to here you would just not be given anywhere else. Like I say to my Farmers for Schools students, just come for an open day and see how you could be part of creating the future of the world.”