The Importance of Engineering

Adam Symons is the Liberal Democrat PPC for Torridge and West Devon

The question on many commentators’ lips is how the UK can invest in much needed infrastructure for transport and energy, while at the same time deal with the debt fall-out from the credit crunch.

The basic truth is that we cannot stand still. The challenges of climate change, greater demand on services due to demographic changes, and scarcity of funds must not allow the UK to stagnate. Already, many parts of Europe are far ahead of us in terms of infrastructure.

My belief is that by investing in this infrastructure, we will provide long-term stimulation to the economy, and actually provide a solid basis for future sustainable growth – which should be seen as a shift away from consumerism and pollution.

However, there are many barriers in our way currently. One of these is the lack of engineering skills in the UK economy. It is not to say that they are not there. However, with the scale of investment that is required, I fear that we may be short.  Bodies such as the CBI have said that the lack of engineers graduating today threaten our future.

Much as in teaching, engineers suffer from a lack of ‘kudos’ or ‘sex-appeal’. International research shows that the quality of education that children get is closely linked to how well regarded the teaching profession is. I think the same could be said about the quality of engineering in this country. It is not valued.

My cousin is a tunnel engineer in Europe, and it is seen as a prestigious job. However, here, perhaps because of the overuse of the term ‘engineer’, engineers do not have the same professional status as other highly trained professionals such as Doctors and Lawyers. Perhaps we need to tighten up the trade description legislation to prevent the bogus use of the term engineer?

The challenges I mentioned above, specifically relating to funding can also be tackled through greater use of production engineering. This being the natural home for lean systems thinking and value management, it is time we took a microscope to what we are spending where, and identify better ways of delivering public services. Engineering is not just about building!

Engineering can provide many solutions, not just to the infrastructure issues we have, but also to the remodelling of public services. We need to embrace the need for science and engineering within the political field, and recognise it as essential to the long-term well being of any economy.

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