Should We Call Engineers “Technical Creatives”?

5 minutes read

Green Skills for Green Jobs looks at careers in the Green Economy

Britain’s Green Economy is booming, according to James Murray, Editor of Business Green who chaired the Green Skills for Green Jobs conference this week. It is growing at 4-5% per year, while the rest of the economy is barely moving, and the sector employs over 900,000 people and will pass a million sometime soon, which will be more than in teaching. The jobs it creates are highly skilled, well paid, personally rewarding, and have a future. This Green Skills conference, attended by both Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and his opposite number, Julie Elliott MP from Labour’s front bench, as well as panel members Jean Llewellyn OBE from the National Skills Academy for Nuclear, Yvonne Baker of the National STEM Centre, and Claire Donovan representing the Royal Academy of Engineering, was in some ways invigorating, but also had its depressing moments.

It is hard to attract young people into engineering in particular, even though green careers are popular, because many do not see it as a job for them. Often schoolchildren choose an engineering career because they had a relative who did it. This means that many talented young people with the right STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths abilities do something else. James Murray highlighted how during the previous technology revolution, in IT, Britain’s early lead was squandered, with an inability to match skills to opportunities, and the rewards went elsewhere.

Ed Davey said, “It is the enthusiasm of young people that spurs you on. This is an agenda we have to get right.”

Britain has an ageing workforce – there is a powerful need to recruit young, dynamic talent to replace those who retire, and move the green revolution forward. Also this week was the Global Tidal Power Conference, (which I will cover in the next blog): this is an industry being born, so many of the necessary skills do not exist yet, but we will need them very soon – again, it is an area that Britain leads the world in, but without proper support from government and investors it will sink.

Ed Davey noted that there were going to be skills of all levels necessary in the green economy, and that industry partnership and education at all levels, from primary schools to universities would be essential to create those skills.

There was a strong presence of the nuclear energy industry at the Green Skills conference, reflecting the need to train a new generation of people to build and operate the new Hinkley Point Reactor, in a consortium led by EDF, which has just been announced.

There was a lot of discussion about how to attract people to the profession. An exhibitor told me the depressing fact that a lot of engineering graduates are lured to the city to become bankers because of their maths and analytical skills, where they could get much more money, and until recently, were treated as being in a high status career, unlike engineering. So the UK has its own internal brain drain.

James Murray quoted inventor Saul Griffith, who said that engineers should be renamed “Technical Creatives,” to give them a more high profile, exciting title. Children younger than 14 years old need to be inspired to pursue this career, because after that it is difficult to acquire the qualifications to follow this particular path. The renaissance of apprenticeships clearly has made a big impact to young people whose case studies showed them learning new skills in a positive environment.


One questioner made the interesting point that engineering is effectively invisible: we see the end product: wind turbine, aircraft, pipeline, structure, but the design and process of creation is unseen, so it is hard to imagine oneself in the job, unlike many others like police, teaching, lorry-driving or whatever where you see a person actually doing the job, so it isn’t so difficult to imagine yourself in the role.

The question of women engineers and how to attract more schoolgirls to the profession did not get much attention. Claire Donovan, of the RAENG, said it was not a difficulty but an opportunity. I think she meant that womens’ often higher level of soft skills in a still predominantly male job area could make significant contributions to projects and operations.

The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership presented its skills manifesto. It is an organisation to train people in Norfolk and Suffolk in the skills necessary to benefit the region – this may be a routemap to show how to upskill the workforce for the future.

Overall the current government, and the ones after, have a duty to have a stable, rational policy environment, so that the Green Economy isn’t subjected to the stop-start uncertainties which erode investment potential, and make young people unsure if a green career is the best option to utilise their talents.



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