As Sir John Parker GBE FREng started his Academy Presidency, the UK was in the grip of the worst recession in living memory, with the financial services sector still on its knees and construction and manufacturing in the doldrums. The Academy was conscious that there was still excellent engineering going on in companies around the UK, along with continuing innovation in our universities, but no one was articulating how we could use these inherent strengths to lift ourselves out of the economic slump.
Sir John made it his mission to change attitudes to engineering and to promote a modern industrial strategy, focused on key sectors where the UK already had expertise. In an interview with the Financial Times in July 2011, he highlighted engineering skills shortages as a key limiting factor to growth that must be addressed urgently. This was the cue for the seminal Jobs and growth report published the following year, which identified the need for around 1.25 million science, engineering and technology professionals and technicians by 2020, including a high proportion of engineers, to support the UK's economic recovery.
Jobs and growth: the importance of engineering skills to the UK economy (2.26 MB)
He was one of the first people to call for an Industrial Strategy along sectoral lines of high growth technology-led businesses. The Academy worked with colleagues at the CBI and provided key input to the Heseltine Review of industrial competitiveness. Secretary of State Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne saw the wisdom of the sectorial approach, which was central to Sir John's own vision, and the Industrial Growth Strategy has since been implemented across government and across sectors, paving the way for real progress.
The Academy reflected these policy developments through its own activities, including the "Innovation in..." series of seminars, highlighting the significant innovation going on around the country in both academia and industry, from energy and aerospace to materials and automotive. The Enterprise Hub was launched to help and advise early stage entrepreneurs, harnessing the expertise and insight of Academy Fellows with experience of starting and running new businesses.
Government started to promote innovation actively through initiatives like the Eight Great Technologies. The Presidents of the four UK national academies worked together effectively to drive forward our common interests in innovation and research, notably with the Chancellor.
Dialogue with industry, government and other countries
International delegations to China helped to drive forward new partnerships with the Chinese Academy of Engineering on energy storage and synthetic biology. Sir John also presided over the groundbreaking Global Grand Challenges summit, bringing together speakers from the US, UK and China to apply engineering thinking to the world's key challenges.
The drive to improve dialogue between industry, academia and government in recognising the importance of the professional engineer in wealth creation inspired a major new Academy campaign, Engineering for Growth, bringing together partner companies and organisations to promote the key role of engineering in rebalancing the economy and highlighting an impending skills shortage.
The QE Prize
The first ever Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering was awarded in 2013 to the engineers who led the development of the internet and the World Wide Web. The prize proved to have an enormous impact, both in getting engineering achievement into the media and inspiring young people to consider engineering as a career. It also received an almost unprecedented level of cross-party support, with the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition all speaking at the initial launch of the prize in 2011 and attending the presentation at Buckingham Palace.