Chi Onwurah

'Bang the drum' for engineering

Engineers need to ‘bang the drum’ for engineering, the UK’s shadow minister for innovation and science says.

Chi Onwurah told an engineering event in London today that there were four key areas where government could and should support innovation – they included skills, infrastructure, finance, and playing an active role in ensuring a competitive market.

But it was also for industry and broader society to play an active role. She said she had worked in France as a software engineer and was “astonished” by the high status in which engineers were held.

“In Germany and Portugal the title ‘engineer’ has the same status, or indeed higher, than that of ‘doctor’, but in the UK, until recently, an engineer was someone who fixed your boiler.”

Engineers needed to “bang the drum” more for engineering, so that government, the civil service, and the media understood and respected the importance of engineering, she said.

Engineering: Gearing UK Growth - hosted by Sir John Parker, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering was an event to discuss how engineering could drive a sustained recovery in UK plc.

Nigel Whitehead, from BAE Systems, said the UK had a culture of innovation. The country needed to play to its strengths, which included airspace and defence, automotive and software. A critical thing was to address the skills issue, he said.

Oxford Instruments chief executive Jonathan Flint said that overall engineering tended not to be valued in the UK. “I believe the case for engineering is self-evident… however, unless we establish the economic, the cultural and social pre-conditions for a sound engineering culture, the UK will lose out in the competition for capital and skills needed to sustain a long-term high-tech engineering-led economy.”

A report by the Royal Academy of Engineering was also launched at the event. Industrial Systems: capturing value through manufacturing called for a more integrated approach to the UK’s industrial systems, in order to extract the maximum value from its supply chains, Sir John said.

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