closing the skills gap

There is a well documented shortage of engineers in the UK. The Royal Academy of Engineering and EngineeringUK, amongst others, have conducted research that have clearly documented this. The UK needs 100,000 new graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects every year until 2020 just to maintain the current employment numbers. What is even more staggering is the percentage of females who make up the current engineering workforce in the UK - only 6%


where does vex robotics fit?

VEX Robotics is all about students actually doing. Yes, there is the design and CAD element, but it doesn't stop there, it continues to the physical building and control of the robots. That control can either be direct, with driver-controlled joysticks, or fully autonomous from a range of programming software (Scratch-like, flow chart, Python and C++) with code downloaded to the robots brain.

The design doesn't stop when the robot is built either, iteration is a core of the VEX curriculum and competition. Students testing their creation and then improving based on what they learn. At every stage students are encourage to work just like real engineers, documenting their work. and evaluating their progress.

As well as the academic skills students gain, there are some key transferable skills too. Plus the software and skills are those used in the real world - CAD software from Autodesk, programming with Python and C++, working with others to face challenges. And while not everyone involved in VEX will go on to work in robotics, everyone will have learnt some new skills.

National Grid has been the lead UK sponsor for the VEX Robotics Competition in the since 2013 and has been a key partner in growing the reach of the programme to schools across the country. From supporting at events, to staff volunteering and working with local schools, they have given an insight into the world of engineering.

how does vex robotics help?

Independent research has shown that involvement with the VEX Robotics Competition (VRC) positively impacts students' interest in STEM. 92% of students wanted to learn more about robotics and 90% more about engineering following involvement. 83% of students also became more interested in taking an engineering course at University. A higher percentage of females also reported that participation in VRC made them want to learn more about robotics and made them more interested in wanting to take Maths or Science classes in school and college.


The VEX IQ Challenge and the VEX Robotics Competition both fully support the involvement of parents in supporting and mentoring teams, giving these key influencers an insight into what engineering can be. Paul McKnight from VEX Robotics agrees, "There is a huge misconception about what an 'Engineering' career really is - particularly among parents. We need to move perceptions away from the dirty, boiler-suited, male-dominated stereotype and to the reality that a career in Engineering is not fixing engines, but can be about addressing some of the biggest challenges faced by society - renewable energy, providing clean water access, advancing healthcare provision, space exploration - this is the career that is accessible and students, both male and female, should be encouraged down this path."

Jonathan Richardson, Education and Skills Specialist at National Grid, adds - "As well as encouraging students to consider careers in STEM areas, involvement with VEX Robotics equips participants with the key transferable skills that all industry is looking for - Communication, Team Work, Time Management, Project Management." As a major employer, National Grid values these skills as highly as they do qualifications. The importance of competition can also not be underestimated, Paul McKnight continues, "Competition is often regarded as being negative in schools, but competition and competing in the 'right way' are also key skills. Students compete for places at University and then compete for jobs. Knowing the right way to compete is a valuable skills and something we promote throughout the competition."