More than 50 years after finishing his secondary education, Academy President Sir John Parker has gone back to school to help inspire the next generation of UK engineers.

As part of Speakers for Schools, a nationwide initiative founded by BBC Business Editor Robert Peston, Sir John was invited to St Saviour’s and St Olave’s Girls’ School in the London Borough of Southwark, a specialist science college with links to the Academy through the London Engineering Project.

Sir John spoke to an audience of girls aged 12-18, involved in the school’s science and engineering club and studying engineering- and business-related subjects.

He talked about growing up in Northern Ireland and his early career at Harland and Wolff Shipyard, joking that despite his age, he had not worked on the Titanic.

He also highlighted the importance of encouraging diversity in the engineering profession, to help foster greater opportunity for different perspectives, creativity and problem solving. He said that National Grid, which he chairs, has more women engineers in senior management positions than many City insurance and legal firms, but recognised there was still work to do to by the engineering profession to attract more women.

He presented the work of two women engineers – Academy funded researcher Dr Sylvia Schievano, a biomedical engineer working on the latest developments in cardio-vascular surgery, and Yewande Akinola an environmental services engineer whose work in improving water supply in developing countries is saving the lives of countless children by providing clean water.

Highlighting the importance of doing well at school, Sir John also told the girls to make the most of every opportunity presented to them. He added only their own expectations hold them back and stressed the importance of mathematics and science in providing greater career opportunities.

Notes for editors

  1. The Royal Academy of Engineering

    Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.
  2. Speakers for Schools

    Speakers for Schools is the idea of BBC Business Editor, Robert Peston, who wants young people in disadvantaged state schools and colleges to have the same opportunities to hear from inspirational speakers as those who attend top independent schools. The idea is to level the playing field and for it to become the norm for leaders in their fields to give talks in state schools and colleges. Speakers for Schools is administered by small charity the Education and Employers Taskforce of which Robert is a Trustee.

    Speakers have included George Alagiah (BBC News), William Boyd (author), Damon Buffini (business leader), Sir Suma Chakrabarti (Ministry of Justice), Marcus Davey (Roundhouse theatre), Martha Lane Fox (founder, Andy Haldane (Bank of England), Julia Hobsbawm (media entrepreneur), LaurenceHollingworth (J.P. Morgan), Ruby McGregor-Smith (FTSE 100 CEO), Robert Peston (BBC), Trevor Phillips, (Equality & Human Rights Commission), Dame Marjorie Scardino (Pearson), Philipp Schindler (Google), Lord Rees (Astronomer Royal and Baroness Vadera (former cabinet minister).

For more information please contact

Ed Holmes on 0207 766 0655