Be a life changer, be an engineer

Good engineering changes people's lives for the better. Almost every product and service we use in life has an engineering content to some extent. Fundamentally, it is at the core of what we do at Highways England.

And so I'm particularly delighted that Highways England is an active supporter of the Year of Engineering 2018 - a government led campaign to get many thousands more young people to consider engineering as a career.

As the CEO of Highways England, you would expect me to support this, and it is also very personal to me.

I started my career when I joined British Airways as an undergraduate apprentice in air transport engineering. After five years of studying and training, I qualified as a licensed aircraft engineer and my first job was maintaining aircraft on the airport ramp.

As a consequence of my career choice to be an engineer I have had some exciting roles including Chief Engineer for Concorde and a period in the USA as Chief Project Engineer for British Airways on its 777 programme – remarkable opportunities just not open to non-engineers.

The statistics about engineering are stark. According to the Royal Academy of Engineering (2015), 94% of the engineering work force is white and 92% of the engineering work force is male. It says the engineering profession wants 186,000 skilled recruits each year until 2024. Meanwhile almost half of engineering companies say a shortage of skilled people is significantly reducing productivity and growth (CEBR 2014).

With the UK needing an extra 20,000 engineering graduates a year, this national campaign is all about showing young people what an engineer is, and what they can achieve. For Highways England we need a continuing pipeline of young engineers to help deliver the massive investment planned for our motorways and major A-roads, benefitting the economy and improving people's lives.

The opportunities cover everything from mega projects such as the £6bn Lower Thames Crossing through preparing the Smart motorway network for connected vehicles, to introducing advanced control room technology to manage traffic flows to improve network capacity and journey times.

We are committed to demonstrating a career in engineering can be for anyone, whatever your background and your culture and to helping government and the industry bridge the current skills gap.

Additionally we are going to be doing much this year to bring young people face to face with our work both at Highways England and within our suppliers.

Engineering UK 2017 says only a third of parents know what an engineer does. We want to improve this knowledge and also give teachers and career advisers the confidence to suggest engineering as a career.

For the first time we are offering work experience placements at Highways England. This will allow young people to see first-hand what we do, the range of jobs on offer, and the difference we make to people's lives.

Also this year staff members with this expertise will be taking days off to volunteer, so they can be role models and sell what they do directly to schools and communities, removing some of the myths and misunderstandings about engineering. We'll also be taking our school groups on visits to some of our iconic structures such as the Severn bridges to see for themselves first-hand engineering achievements.

We all have a role to play in encouraging our young, and spotting future engineers; supporting them to fulfill their skills in a truly rewarding role.

The Year of Engineering is a fantastic opportunity for all of us to broaden and build the future of our profession. I encourage everyone involved in engineering to get behind this important campaign.