New policy centre to drive engineering’s dialogue with government

The newly launched National Engineering Policy Centre will help engineers talk to policymakers with one voice writes Royal Academy of Engineering President, Professor Dame Ann Dowling.

Engineering not only provides the backbone of the UK’s industry and economy but also benefits our everyday lives. The sector generates 23% of the UK’s total turnover and accounts for nearly half our exports. Engineers have insights and skills that can help address many of the country’s biggest challenges, such as improving our productivity, harnessing disruptive technological change for public good, and upgrading our infrastructure, energy and transport systems.

Good decisions on grand-scale, transformative projects such as these cannot be made in isolation by government. The engineering community has a desire to help the UK thrive, and by sharing their expertise they can support policy makers to make informed decisions about the future.

The challenge for policy makers

Policy makers face increasingly complex challenges, often with strong technical elements, at a time when the UK’s relationship with the world is changing. They are not experts in all topics and need external advice to develop sound solutions to these challenges, improve productivity, and drive social and economic growth.

We know that the scope and diversity of the engineering profession is one of its great strengths but for policy makers it can be confusing to navigate. We need to make it easier for them to access the vast reservoir of knowledge that is spread across a fragmented and specialised landscape of many separate engineering organisations. It is also important to recognise that a unified voice for engineering has much greater impact – coordinating our efforts across the profession makes a big difference.

Increasing engineering’s impact in government

Engineers have an enormous amount to contribute by collaborating across our own profession and crucially with policy makers. They are problem solvers with deep knowledge of addressing complex systems issues, and it is vital that their wealth of experience is fully brought to bear on these national challenges.

Working together as a profession is not a new idea, and a unified voice for engineering has real impact, as our previous collaborations have shown. The engineering profession came together to produce a unified response to Brexit and to the Industrial Strategy Green Paper. More recently the pan-profession report, Engineering Skills for the Future – the 2013 Perkins review revisited, has been well received by government and is opening up a series of new conversations. This is Engineering, a social media campaign delivered in partnership with the engineering profession and industry partners, has significantly increased consideration of engineering as a career among UK teenagers as part of the Government’s Year of Engineering in 2018. By aligning our efforts right across the profession, we have seen measurable improvements in public perceptions of engineering.

Over the last year we have been in detailed discussions with the other engineering organisations as to how best to work together for the common good. We are hugely encouraged by their support and assistance, which has resulted in the formation of the National Engineering Policy Centre, an ambitious partnership, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering, between 38 different engineering organisations.

National Engineering Policy Centre

This is a big step forward for the engineering profession. The National Engineering Policy Centre will allow partners to work together on issues that affect, or should be informed by, the whole profession, while respecting the distinct capability of each institution. It will provide excellent evidence-based policy guidance, informed by unparalleled industry, academia and practitioner insights and expertise. It will also build relationships between policy makers and engineers, growing mutual awareness and enabling policy advice to respond to the needs of both.

The Centre will trial new approaches to create deeper networks between policy makers and engineers

I strongly believe that, by working together, we can deliver more impactful and agile advice and expertise on the issues that matter, while providing policy makers with a streamlined route to engineering knowledge. The Centre will trial new approaches to create deeper networks between policy makers and engineers. Policy makers will have easy access to engineering expertise and see the Centre as a trusted and responsive partner in informing evidence-based policy making for the public good. There are benefits for the profession too, with a new route into government to inform and have greater influence on critical issues of social and economic importance.

Our aim is that the Centre will help deliver economic growth and better social outcomes in the UK by enabling engineering expertise to be applied where it is most needed. But, none of this can be done without the support of engineers, so I look forward to working together with you to realise this ambitious vision.

Professor Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS is President of the Royal Academy of Engineering