STEM ambassadors from one of the North East’s blue-chip companies are part of the “pit crew” preparing the next generation of engineers for a career in the fast lane.

Kathryn Mullins and Jane Hodgson, engineers at Komatsu UK’s Birtley plant, are heading to Abu Dhabi having been selected as judges for the World Finals of the “F1 in Schools” competition.

The duo has already been to Wales as part of the judging panel at the National Finals, a two-day event held at Airbus’ West Factory in Broughton, Flintshire, at which 48 teams of young people from schools across the country competed for a place in November’s Abu Dhabi finals.

Youngsters are tasked with a series of engineering-related challenges, with an expert panel of professionals from a variety of industries appraising the students’ work, including Komatsu UK and Airbus employees.

Komatsu UK, which manufactures a range of hydraulic excavators, has long been an advocate of nurturing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) skills and actively encourages its engineering staff to become STEM ambassadors.

Launched in 2006, Komatsu’s STEM Ambassadors are a team of employees from the Birtley plant who actively promote the key subjects to students, as well as attending and speaking at events for local schools, colleges and universities.

Design engineer Kathryn Mullins is one of Komatsu UK’s 22 STEM advocates. Kathryn is passionate about inspiring more young people and highlighting how these subject areas open many doors with prospective employers. She was impressed by competitor enthusiasm at the event.

Kathryn said: “It is a real honour to be selected to be part of the international judging panel at this year’s World Finals. The standard at the national event was outstanding and we expect it to be even higher on the world stage.

“Komatsu is committed to the STEM agenda, with the skills learned helping people succeed in careers that fuel the regional and UK economies. It’s vital that we give young people the support they need to succeed, which is why we support projects like the F1 in Schools which place importance on the STEM subjects.

“Working closely with local schools, colleges and training providers, the Ambassadors ensure that Komatsu UK does everything it can to future-proof our future skills pool and the F1 in Schools challenge is a great example of this.”

Kathryn was pleased with how many young females participated in the event and the increase year-on-year witnessed since she has been judging the competition.

“Over the last decade there has been a real drive to encourage more females to consider engineering roles and we’re really starting to see this bear fruit,” she added.

“We’re seeing more females enter F1 in Schools and this year there were some absolutely outstanding performances, from mixed groups to all-female and all-male groups and this is testament to the work put in by the industry over recent years in encouraging diversity.”

Researching, designing, making and racing a miniature Formula 1 car is at the core of the F1 in Schools challenge, with students producing a portfolio and pit display as well giving a presentation showcasing their engineering design, research and development work to judges.

Each car is also put to the test, racing head-to-head on the F1 in Schools 20-metre track.

Production engineer, Jane Hodgson, also a STEM Ambassador, added: “This is the seventh year we have supported this important event and every year it gets better. It’s amazing to see how much time, effort and commitment students put in and I can’t wait to see the standard at the World Finals – it is such an honour for me and Komatsu to be selected for the judging panel.

“Kathryn and I were delighted to be asked to get involved. It’s a fantastic event and a privilege to be able to give something back to an industry that’s given us so much in our careers.”