Article - Issue 74, March 2018

Engineering for society

Dr Hayaatun Sillem

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Engineering and technology are playing an ever more visible role in the world around us. So many of the topics that feature in the media, in Parliament and in everyday conversation are issues on which an engineering voice is important. From the impact of AI and automation to air quality, the challenges faced in the NHS and in housing, and the need to improve economic opportunity in underserved regions of the UK – these are issues that engineers, working with others, can help to address. I am delighted that I have been given the opportunity to lead the Royal Academy of Engineering into its next phase of development and am deeply committed to ensuring that we succeed in our mission to promote engineering excellence for the benefit of society. If we achieve this, we will be playing an essential role in national life.

Dr Hayaatun Sillem

Dr Hayaatun Sillem

Leadership is at the heart of our identity as a national academy and depends on us building strong partnerships right across the engineering community. A key priority for the year ahead is to establish a new Engineering Policy Centre, with participation from all the UK’s professional engineering organisations. Our objective is to boost our collective ability to engage with policymakers on important strategic issues such as future energy supply and engineering skills. We want to enhance the visibility and influence of the engineering profession at the highest levels of both regional and national government, so that we can better support those who make decisions on behalf of the public.

Another crucial area in which we are seeking to provide leadership is diversity and inclusion. It is a source of frustration and disappointment that we still have a UK engineering workforce that is 91% male and 94% white, especially at a time when we are facing significant shortfalls in the numbers of engineers joining our profession. The Academy leads a major programme to accelerate the rate of progress towards creating a profession that can inspire, attract and retain people from all backgrounds and that better reflects the society we serve. Recently, we have increased our focus on fostering an inclusive culture within engineering – something that engineers from all backgrounds can contribute to and benefit from. Last year, we conducted a groundbreaking study on how the culture in engineering is perceived, which nearly 7,000 UK engineers participated in. We are continuing to use the evidence this uncovered to drive the development of practical tools to promote inclusion within our profession.

Engineering’s role in enabling and accelerating growth, including through research and innovation, is well recognised and will become even more important as the UK leaves the EU. The Academy supports outstanding engineering researchers at all career stages, attracting the best talent to work on the problems and opportunities that matter to industry. I am delighted that recent funding boosts from the government’s Investment in Research Talent are enabling us to support more excellent researchers than ever. It is also helping to ensure that emerging technologies with the potential to deliver significant economic and social impact continue to be advanced within the UK.

We are also working with engineers around the world to enhance the ability of our talented researchers to make people’s lives better. For example, the Frontiers of Engineering for Development programme brings together UK and international early-career researchers from across and beyond engineering to explore what they can achieve through collaboration. For attendees, this can be a transformational experience that opens their eyes to the breadth of impact that engineering – and their research – can help deliver. Engineering is a vital contributor to global development: engineers, working in multidisciplinary teams, will play essential roles in addressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Another major focus of our international programmes is innovation and enterprise. So far we have trained over 600 budding engineering entrepreneurs from 16 emerging economies under our Newton Fund Leaders in Innovation Fellowships. This scheme grew out of our UK-based Enterprise Hub, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this year. The Hub supports both engineers who are embarking on their entrepreneurial journey and leaders of established engineering SMEs. In addition to funding, we connect them with Academy Fellows and other experienced entrepreneurs who can support and advise them as they set out in business. We now have 73 Hub members, who have raised over £60 million in investment funding and created 57 new companies, generating 270 high-quality jobs.

This is an exciting time to be taking on the role of CEO. I look forward to working with the wider engineering community to make sure that during this Year of Engineering we showcase what modern engineering can offer, build partnerships across the profession, and kick-start efforts to attract a new generation of engineers who better reflect the society we live in.

Dr Hayaatun Sillem

Chief Executive

Royal Academy of Engineering

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