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Are you willing to step up and help shape future industrial strategy?

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Engineers need to be more willing to engage in politics and not leave it solely to people with no practical experience of the impact their decisions have in the real world.

It’s an accepted fact that our political discourse and decision-making would be improved if we could broaden the range of people involved. Yet for many, politics is something they would rather avoid.

One of the key reasons I entered politics was because I didn’t agree with the way things are done, and since being elected to Senedd Cymru, the Welsh Parliament, in 2018 I’ve spoken a lot about the need for a kinder, more reasoned politics where we treat each other with respect. The sort of change that would encourage more people to play an active part in fighting for changes that can benefit us all.

My own route into politics wasn’t a traditional one. This was for more than one reason, but one of the things that made me unusual was that I was an engineer and had come straight from industry. I came to realise that this meant I looked at politics in a different way from those who have worked their way up through the ranks. Because I took an engineer's approach to problem-solving, for me the definition of a good idea wasn’t how easily I could explain it on Twitter, how well I could agitate the public to my cause, nor even how popular it was. A good idea as far as I was concerned was one that solves the problem we’re facing and stands the test of time.

The training I received as an engineer, and my experiences on the shop floor, have proved invaluable in my role as a Member of Senedd Cymru, where I represent a community I’ve been part of all my life. Not only does that mean I’m well placed to stand up for industry, understanding the challenges faced by the sector, but it also helps me support constituents who come to me in their time of need. It’s important to be able to empathise with and understand the challenges people face in their day-to-day lives – and having experiences outside politics is central to this.

Engineers work on evidence and aren’t afraid to change course if the evidence suggests a mistake has been made. The process of carrying out a root-cause analysis and rectifying that in politics is usually referred to as a U-turn and seen as a sign of weakness. I firmly believe there should be no shame in re-evaluating, listening to evidence and improving policy where necessary, particularly when it improves the lives of the people we represent. Engineers understand the value of continuous improvement of a process or procedure, with quality and efficiency being at the forefront of development goals.

Engineering isn’t unique in this; there are workplaces in sectors across the country where such attitudes are the norm. The fact that politics is dominated by people who are too used to operating in a certain rigid fashion only serves to narrow the pool of people who participate and is bad for our democracy and for our political institutions. The status quo only serves to benefit those already in positions of power and this can never be a positive or progressive way of operating our political system. Ensuring diversity amongst those involved in politics guarantees a wider range of perspectives and solutions are available to us.

That’s why I want to broaden participation, and as an engineer myself I want to see engineers help in the task of making our politics kinder and more inclusive. If recent events have proved anything, it is that politics matters and none of us are exempt from the consequences of the decisions politicians make. We’ve heard a lot about a green economic recovery from the Covid pandemic, particularly for manufacturing; this could be one way we can forge a positive future from the current challenges we all face.

As engineers we cannot leave the decisions on what this future will look like to policy professionals; they have to be shaped by people who have worked in manufacturing and who can engineer solutions. Policies need to be achievable and deliverable, and the good news is that is how engineers work. So, I would encourage as many engineers as possible to have their say and take part.

Jack Sargeant is a Member of Senedd Cymru, representing the Alyn and Deeside constituency. A time-served engineer with a degree in industrial engineering, before being elected he worked as a machinist at DRB Group and as a research and development engineer with Atlas Copco. Readers thinking of entering politics are welcome to contact him at jack.sargeant@senedd.wales.

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