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Looking up to Engineers

Engineers have held a revered place in our society ever since the Industrial Revolution. But it seems that the old guard such as Brunel who remain viewed as world changers in our collective memory have failed to be joined by more contemporary examples. In an article published this week, James Dyson argues that it will be our modern engineers who hold the key to our revival following the recession. Is this the start of a realisation that Engineering is stepping back onto its pedestal?..

The comment piece from Dyson published in The Telegraph eloquently states the importance of engineering to many of Britain’s greatest achievements and how poorly the government has looked after its health since World War II. He goes on to criticise education for failing to capture the interest of potential young engineers (something that has been well documented in EPA over the past year) but ultimately Dyson believes it is the government’s lack of willing to subsidise British engineering and manufacturing that that has been crucial.

He concludes with: “Modern Britain cannot wholly rely on the financial sector, or service industries. The government needs to invest in long-term support for research and development, and in ambitious engineering projects. Some will be more successful than others, but relentlessly bandying around the buzzword "innovation" will not fix our industrial ills. Britain needs to invent, patent and create – making, not just talking.”

This comes a couple of weeks after a report from the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills (IUSS) Committee made clear how poorly engineers have been represented in government policy making departments, while scientific input has been prominent. The distinction between science and engineering appears to have been blurred for many in government and as a result the hugely important element of engineering pragmatism has been lacking within committees.

Engineers have an inherent understanding of how concepts will work in the real world, which is invaluable when attempting to solve problems of national and global importance, both in terms of infrastructure and climate management. When so many of these issues involve huge engineering projects, surely it’s worthwhile having input from people who know how to implement the technology and not just from people who understand the theory behind it?

The committee discussed whether a post of Chief Engineer would help the situation, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Even as a medium to increase public awareness of the significance of engineering, I feel it would be a step in the right direction. But hopefully if the post was created, its power and reach would be far greater than mere publicity. The real need is to influence decision-making, so that Britain’s future is not strewn with ill-conceived, half-finished or grossly over-budget national projects that could have been made to work but for a lack of engineering nous.

But it is a great to see that there is a debate concerning these issues. My only hope is that some important people take the engineers’ lead and put the words into action.

Enjoy the newsletter,

Richard Scott

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