The Virtual Engineering Centre – supporting the development of the future digital workforce

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At the Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC), we aim to inspire, empower and connect young scientists and engineers in the Liverpool City Region and beyond by stimulating the communication of their ideas, research and opinions – making them ready to answer tomorrow’s toughest challenges and solve complex real-world problems through the application of digital toolsets.

Over the summer 2019, we added six new students, undergraduates and postgraduates to our team through bespoke placements at the Virtual Engineering Centre. They workes across our digital teams and applying their interests and skills on various cross-sector projects. Our student associates learnt a lot about the world of digital technologies such as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to support predictive modelling programming our new robotics assets, providing insights for clients through improved data analytics and immersive visualisation to support product design.  A key part of their time was spent on understanding how the application of these technologies in real-life commercial scenarios can make an impact and drive innovation.

At the VEC, we believe in our expertise and talent and are keen to support and equip the workforce of the future, providing students at all levels, the opportunity to develop their skills on research and” real-life” industry challenges. We are committed to developing people with highly developed digital skills for the future – filling our own skills gap in this fast-paced, emerging field.

Lynn Dwyer, Head of Commercial for the VEC, said: ‘’It is important for us to give placement experiences to emerging talent, to help mould and develop their digital skills to address the needs of organisations in the future. By delivering training to individuals, businesses, and schools, we hope to equip people with the necessary skills that will enable our workforce to prosper. This placement project has been so successful that we are looking to develop specific programmes around skills with commercial application.’’


Meet the students:

Our team of placement students are from across education board, talent and enthusiasm.

Joe Jenkins from Christleton High School in Chester, currently studying his GCSE’s, spent a week’s summer placement at the VEC.

Joe said: “Working with the VEC’s digital team this has been an exciting placement opportunity for me. I’ve gained lots of valuable, real-life digital experiences and worked on the most exciting projects!’’ Joe Jenkins, GCSE Student, Christleton High School in Chester.


A survey by WES (Womens Engineering Society) found only 11% of engineers in the UK are women.


Blanca Quintana Galera. At the VEC, we encourage international students – Blanca is a PhD student, who graduated as an Industrial Engineer from the Spanish University of Castilla La Mancha.

She worked at the digital hub for six months, applying her skills in algorithms, robot automation, 3D scanning, data processing and the auto-generation of models while continuing her research in robotics, 3D computer vision and developing her English language for business.

Blanca’s main focus was on Lomo, the VEC robot – her work with Lomo will help humans navigate through our digi-lab space; interaction is through an RGB-d camera for recognition and navigation.



It is predicted that within 20 years, 90% of all jobs will require digital skills.


Camran Qadeer, from Warrington, studying at Barrow Hall College in Great Sankey, Camran has completed his first year studying Maths, Physics and Computer Science at A-level and spent a week exploring everything digital at the Virtual Engineering Centre.

Camran said: “Some of the concepts in physics and maths are quite hard to understand at times however there is a wide range of digital resources available to help with things – the same with complex commercial problems.’’

Camran approached the VEC for a summer work placement, seeing as the work and research here is computer technology based, an area which he hopes to study further at Undergraduate level. The use of rapidly developing technologies such as in extended reality (VR, AR, MR), a huge industry at the moment is very interesting for Camran and is a potential career area of interest for the future.

Camran added: “My experience here with the digital team has been very informative and interesting – I have been able to see demonstrations of digital solutions within the laboratories, and I have also learnt how to use modelling software that allows animation and visualisation.’’

During his week at the VEC, Camran designed specific models and implemented them into Unity, a real-time 3D development platform, allowing him to view his work using a VR headset. He also spent time with the simulation team and experienced exciting work with robots, representations of a colony on Mars, and how drones can be used to monitor the more dangerous areas of nuclear power stations.



Proactive and flexible employers are already finding ways to cope.


Alan Everett. Last year, Alan secured a summer placement at the Virtual Engineering Centre for and returned to extend his work here.

Alan graduated from the University of Liverpool with a 1st in BSc Physics this summer and has a particular interest in Condensed Matter Physics. This interest led to a dissertation project where he researched a chemical compound’s properties and capability for potential use in photovoltaics!

Alan said: “This was my second summer placement at the Virtual Engineering Centre. The team are great, and I’ve gained lots of insight into cross-sector digital expertise from the nuclear industry through to healthcare and how these technologies can be applied for business impact. I even got to celebrate the news of my 1st class honours degree news with the VEC team!’’ Alan Everett, University of Liverpool, PG

Alan has worked and gained experience working across all of the VEC digital teams and has learnt a wide array of skills including coding, modelling and using an array of commercial software packages to solve real-world business problems.

Alan added: “An advantage of work experience at the VEC, is that every new project brings a new challenge but also requires expertise in different subject areas. I have had to quickly gain knowledge in many areas ranging from nuclear reactors to robotics, which has kept every day interesting. My computer, coding and general digital skills have improved immeasurably, but what I value the most is the confidence I have gained in being able to interact and communicate with the team to solve an industry problem.’’ Alan Everett, University of Liverpool, PG



Shaun Johnson, from Liverpool, Shaun was in his first year of Mechatronics and Robotic Systems degree at the University of Liverpool.

Shaun’s interest in simulation methodologies came from his former work as a professional poker player and coach! Shaun is currently working with the VEC digital simulation team and will continue to do so for the summer placement. His first project here was working on designing and programming an algorithm to divide 4-dimensional data into sections based on their location in 4D space.

Shaun said: “I’ve learned a new programming language (C++) from scratch in a few weeks, which will give me a big career advantage in the future. This was very challenging mathematically and was incredibly rewarding when I finally figured it out.  ’’ Shaun Johnson, University of Liverpool, UG. 

Shaun enjoyed working with robotic car and arm – trying to get the positional data from the encoders for use in a simulation on the surface of Mars.

Shaun added: “I’ve added three new programming languages, had the most robotics experience I’ve ever had, connected with and learnt from people in the industry, and been paid a very fair wage for my time. I would recommend the VEC to anyone.’’ Shaun Johnson, University of Liverpool, UG.



The British Chambers of Commerce say 81% of manufacturers report that there is a critical shortage of skilled staff.


Elara Nicholson graduated from the University of Liverpool in 2017 with a masters degree in Aerospace Engineering. For her 3rd and 4th year project, she worked on a virtual engine test bench – a digital twin of a turbofan engine that explored how different engine faults affect performance and how they can be de-risked for efficiencies. Her interest in this field led Elara to the VEC for a placement opportunity.

Elara said: “In 3 weeks on my placement, I learnt a lot and the variety of work means there is always something to try and figure out. The 1st project I am a part of involves AI – teaching a computer to look at the data from a thermal camera to detect a human, recognise it and track movement through the doorway to keep track of the occupancy in the room. The 2nd  project I am working on involves learning a new software program to create a virtual model of a railway and platforms, which will be expanded to be more complex and mimic the real-life national rail.’’ Elara Nicholson, University of Liverpool, PG.



A Government spokesman said: “We are working with the public, private and charity sector to tackle the digital skills challenge in a coordinated and collaborative way and through our Digital Skills Partnership has provided more than two million targeted training opportunities.

“We are investing £84 million in a world-leading new centre for computing education for schools, led by some of the UK’s leading tech experts, to give teachers the subject knowledge and support they need to teach the next generation of talent and our new T-levels, designed in collaboration with employers, will prepare young people with the practical skills they need to succeed.”