Teddington MD James Henderson was honoured to chair the 76th Marine Engineering Dinner at The DoubleTree Hotel in Bristol last Friday (April 20).

James delivered a speech to invited guests at the dinner, which is largely a networking event for people working in the engineering industry across the UK.

The dinner dates back to 1934 when a small gathering of civilian Drawing Office grades from the Engineer-In-Chief’s Department Admiralty held the inaugural dinner at the Chanticleer Restaurant in Soho, London.

During his speech, James revisited recent blog posts in which he raised concerns over a lack of engineering role models and how the price of failure is holding back the inventors of tomorrow.

James said “While the government has declared 2018 as the ‘Year of Engineering’ and it has certainly got people talking, and while I think the intent is good, I feel it somewhat misses the point of what is wrong with engaging people in engineering sectors.

“A recent estimate by EngineeringUK shows that 186,000 new engineers will be needed each year until 2024 to fill the engineering skills gap. The average starting salary for engineering and technology graduates is £25,880, compared to £22,000 for all graduates.

“It seems unlikely therefore that money is the sole issue. There certainly is an issue revolving around money – that industry and legislation needs to address which concerns the way we do business. The rules and regulations, the processes to mature an innovative idea into something that can be presented to the market is simply massive.

“The cost of launching an idea is too high and, subsequently, the cost of failure is too high. This means that we are not encouraging people to innovate. Companies are far less likely to take those leaps of faith for fear of upsetting shareholders."

James added: “Personally, I think the biggest problem with engineering is that it lacks a number of idols which people can genuinely look up to. Actors have fame, doctors have kudos, and bankers and lawyers have money (and lots of it). Their sectors have superstars that are looked up to – not only in their own industry but very importantly by the general populace. I think that this is the key. We have got to make engineering cool again.

“There are a few modern engineering celebrities, but compared to other sectors, they are few and far between and have, by and large, been swallowed up by large corporate entities. As a result, there’s a perception that they’ve become detached from the engineering brilliance that got them there in the first place.

“People should not aspire to work for Apple, they should aspire to be Steve Jobs.

“I think it is the responsibility of the engineering community, including the people in this room, to try and pick up the mantle, to make the Year of Engineering actually work as it should, and sustain the momentum delivered into 2019 and beyond.”