Commons Terrace Marquee, Engineering Council Reception

My tragedy is that when I was choosing my university degree subject, Rolls Royce has just been nationalised by the Heath government. And my school said that engineering didn’t have a future.

So, despite my A levels in Maths and Physics, I became a dismal scientist – an economist.

But I’ve maintained my love for engineering. My two heroes are Brunel and Shakespeare.

As Vice President of Britain’s finest preserved steam railway, the Severn Valley Railway, I have been delighted to encourage the directors in their recruitment of new apprentices to work on the engines, rolling stock and permanent way.

I was Chairman of the BIS Committee in the last parliament, and Minister for Defence Equipment in this one.

In both posts I realised more keenly than ever how important a flow of bright young people is to engineering.

We all know that engineering is a key driver of economic success, of manufacturing and technological innovation.

That the delivery and maintenance of our national infrastructure depends on engineers.

And that engineering is also central to our defence and security – where, often, only British skills will do.

But what isn’t always appreciated is that engineering graduates hold the key to solving some of the greatest challenges the world faces.

If we’re going to solve these challenges, we need to shout it loud that engineering is open to applicants from all backgrounds.

That’s why I was so delighted to commission this report, “Through Both Eyes” from the campaign group ScienceGrrl.

It sets out practical steps we can take to address the scandalous gender imbalance in STEM subjects in general and in engineering in particular.

It must be seen as a genuinely meritocratic profession, providing genuine opportunity though progressive pathways that lead from apprenticeship to fellowship.

The credibility of those pathways depends on standards.

So I’m delighted to see the importance of standards being properly articulated by professional engineering institutions, and being taken up so keenly by industry.

What we need now is:

• world class registrants who proudly display their titles after their name;
• and companies who recruit them because they know that the titles EngTech, IEng, CEng or ICTTech represent a benchmark for the 21st century capabilities those companies need to succeed.

There are so many statistics about the issue of engineering skills. Here’s just one.

In 2011-12 just under 24,000 students graduated with a degree in engineering or technology – the good news is that this represents a 21% increase over ten years; the challenge is that we need many more of them, more apprentices and more technicians.

The bad news from the City in recent years, and the increasing willingness of the media to report the good news about manufacturing and engineering certainly helps.

But still, all of us – institutes, individuals, firms, politicians - have a role to play in ensuring sufficient people can make informed choices so that the needs and desires of future generations can be met.

And that means both those new to the world of work, and those choosing to change careers.

That’s why I’m pleased to be able to host today’s event, which showcases the professional standards that underpin engineering.

And on that note it gives me great pleasure to hand over to Rear Admiral Nigel Guild – whose distinguished career with the Navy included the posts of Senior Responsible Owner for Carrier Strike and Chief Naval Engineering Officer, a title I particularly envy him.

But now he has an even better one - Chairman of the Engineering Council’s Board of Trustees.

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