How to Build an Engineer

Encourage students to participate in Academic and Practical Skills competitions to bring out their STEM potential.

(Image Source: FIRST)

(Image Source: FIRST)

Although some studies have indicated an overall increase in the number of students pursuing degrees related to technology in North America, there remain serious gaps in participation from important demographic groups. To address the chronic shortage of capable technical workers in North America, increasing participation in technology-related careers is critical.

One way to promote science and technology is by encouraging students to participate in a variety of current STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) activities that are available, such as science and engineering fairs and robotics competitions. These activities stimulate curiosity and provide young people with a unique opportunity to research, learn, experiment and develop the skills necessary to pursue careers in science and technology.

Being challenged with practical problems teaches students to not only apply their theoretical knowledge but to also develop critical skills as they gain exposure to the latest technology. With proper guidance, students can develop a passion for engineering, making science fairs and other competitions a valuable part the academic journey.


In Canada, the Ontario Provincial Championship of the VEX Robotics tournament ran on the weekend of March 4, 2023 at the Niagara Falls Convention Centre. Students from all over Ontario competed by building and programming autonomous robots to complete various tasks while overcoming a variety of obstacles. Watching the students compete always provides a great insight into the future engineering and technology leaders of the up-and-coming generation.

Another popular competition along the same lines as VEX is the global FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) for grades 9 to 12 and FIRST Lego League (FLL) for grades 4 to 8. Both include local and international events where teams build and program robots to perform specific tasks on a game field.  A notable difference is that  the younger FLL Teams are expected to build and program their robots without major adult involvement (aside from some supervision and mentoring).

Skills Ontario, a program funded by both the federal and provincial governments, provides another opportunity for youth to be exposed to skilled trades and technology. Skills Ontario sends winning teams to WorldSkills. Along with general technology, students are encouraged and empowered to explore careers in skilled trades and are also given assistance in getting a start in those areas in the form of tools and resources. Skills Ontario has close links with many industry partners, which gives students access to potential co-op, temporary or permanent job opportunities.

All these competitions require students to apply their knowledge of engineering, programming, and controls to design and build a functional  machine or device. They are required to work as a team to coordinate and optimize the performance, gaining hands-on experience designing and building complex systems. This experience is invaluable for potential engineers, as they must have a deep understanding of many different complex systems, how they work and how to design and optimize these systems.

Science Fairs

Before computers, programming and robotics were main-stage events, science and engineering fairs and other similar competitions have always been an integral part of the academic journey. They offer a unique opportunity for young students to apply their theoretical knowledge to practical problems. In schools, students learn the fundamental theories of engineering, programming, and control techniques, however, it can be challenging to see how these theories are applied in the real world.


Participating in science fairs and other technical competitions can give young students a distinct advantage when studying to be an engineer. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Applying theoretical knowledge to practical problems
  • Developing critical skills
  • Access to the latest technology and tools
  • Building networks and gaining exposure to industry professionals
  • Developing passion for controls engineering

These challenging activities teach students important skills such as how to work in a team while solving real world and simulated problems. Students must learn that teamwork is essential to working effectively while openly communicating ideas and then applying them to solve the given problems. Some of these systems students must create are very complicated, which means research and seeking out advice from professionals working their respective fields.

Access to the Latest Technology and Tools

Science fairs and competitions provide an opportunity for students to gain exposure to the latest technology and tools. In competitions like FIRST Robotics, students are often shown cutting-edge technologies such as advanced sensors, microcontrollers and programming languages. By gaining experience with these technologies, students can develop a deeper understanding of how they can be used to design and optimize systems and will be better prepared to understand and use the next generation of languages and technologies that have yet to be invented.

Moving Forward

Science fairs and competitions spark interest in students and motivate them to pursue a career in the one of the STEM fields. These events provide students with an opportunity to explore their passion for engineering, showcase their work to potential employers, and receive recognition for their accomplishments. Networking can be invaluable when it comes to finding internships, job opportunities, and building relationships with industry professionals. For some students, these events can be life-changing and set them on a path towards a successful career in engineering and technology.