What a time to be alive!

Author : Mark Gradwell, Consultant Editor

12 September 2017

Welcome to your October 2017 issue of EPDT. Since taking the reins as editor of EPDT, I’ve used some of my editorial comments (and regular STEM columns) to discuss the many challenges facing UK – and indeed, global – engineering.

It’s a serious topic that’s close to my heart, but I wanted to use this month’s editorial to balance that view with a positive look at some encouraging signs of resurgence for engineering and technology. Engineers and scientists play such a vital and influential role in helping us understand the world around us and improving everyday life for everyone. That’s why, at EPDT, we are on a mission to highlight and celebrate the amazing work they do and their tremendous contribution to society.

Engineering UK (www.engineeringuk.com) is a not-for-profit organisation, working in partnership with the engineering community to promote the vital role of engineers and engineering – and to inspire its next generation. Alongside its partners, it delivers a range of engaging activities that challenge outdated perceptions of the industry and showcase the exciting and important careers available to people with the right qualifications. This is underpinned with incisive research to paint a clear picture of the state of UK engineering and the impact of inspiring outreach activity.

The flagship publication of its research programme is Engineering UK: The State of Engineering – its annual study and detailed statistical analysis of the industry. Despite the fact that demand for engineering graduates continues to outstrip supply, the 2017 report points to some encouraging signs for UK engineering: first degrees obtained in engineering and technology are up 9%; England has seen the highest number of engineering-related apprenticeship enrollments for a decade; and increasing numbers of 11 to 16 year olds say they would consider a career in engineering. In addition, the rate of growth in higher education applicants to engineering courses (+5%) is almost double the rate across 
all subjects (+2.7%), with gains in all its sub-disciplines – except (worryingly, from EPDT’s perspective!) electrical and electronic. According to the report, the number of engineering enterprises in the UK grew by 7% over the previous year, contributing £486 billion to UK GDP – around 26% of the total and up 2.3%.

Anecdotally too, it feels like the tide has been turning for STEM. Since the financial crash a decade ago, successive governments have been more positive about the value of engineering, science, technology and manufacturing to our economy. And in the media too, science and technology are getting more attention – and in a more positive light. We’ve seen the emergence of ‘rock star’ scientists, like Professor Brian Cox, helping make STEM ‘cool’ and broadening its appeal. Cox has become a regular feature in the media, fronting multiple BBC TV programmes and appearing as a contributor on radio. His recent live tour sold out arenas, including an 8,700-capacity crowd at London’s Wembley Arena, setting a Guinness World Record in the process for ‘Most tickets sold for a science tour’. Films on scientific topics or subjects have been on the rise (The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Hidden Figures). And in the past few weeks alone, primetime television has featured programmes on the race for commercial space travel (Cox again) and the possibility of humans inhabiting other planets (Professor Stephen Hawking and Cox’s peer, Professor Danielle George).

As The Simpsons tells us, what a time to be alive! 

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