It’s second nature to those of us who’ve worked in manufacturing in Derby, that Derby is a manufacturing city.
Derby was at the forefront of the industrial revolution; factories, engineering and production are in our DNA. The manufacture of ‘things’ from trains, cars, aeroengines, textiles and much more have made Derby wealthy. But will it always be like that?
Sadly for many years manufacturing was not given the status it deserved. Engineers and engineering lost status in the UK, though they are still highly valued in many other countries, like Germany and France, India and China.
Somehow ‘wealth creation’ was no longer seen as important. ‘Higher’ learning and the arts became the vogue. Somehow the country had forgotten that without wealth, these other aspects of life no longer thrive.
At last though, these technical and scientific skills, learning and creativity are slowly being valued again. Encouragement from the government – Vince Cable in the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, not Michael Gove in Education – is paying dividends. I’ve written before about the JCB Academy, now Derby is preparing for its own University Technical College – Derby Manufacturing UTC.
A joint initiative from Derby College, University of Derby, Roll-Royce and a host of other industrial partners, I was pleased to be at an introductory talk last week, being told about its plans to open in September 2015.
Will initiatives like this be the turning point for manufacturing and give engineering the status it deserves as the real creator of wealth in society? Maybe, but sadly it may not be apparent for a while yet.
In many other countries engineering is seen as a route to senior positions across large parts of society and commerce. It will take more than two years to achieve that view in the UK. And until we do, engineering will not be a favoured route for a majority of aspiring parents.
There is a catch 22 here as well… Until we have enough good people choosing to study engineering and technology, there will be pressure on people to stay in technical roles. But I believe that it will not be until engineers are heading more of our top companies and organisations that engineers and engineering will be treated with the status it deserves.
Engineers leaving engineering for other fields need to be seen as ambassadors for engineering, not a loss to industry and the profession.