Claire’s Speech at the Chamber of Commerce Networking Breakfast

12th October 2010

Leigh Technology Academy, Dartford

We have all heard it said that “money makes the world go round” well I would like to challenge this…

I believe that it is “Engineering that makes the world go round”
2008/2009 saw the biggest slump in the UK and world economy post world war II.  The effects of the so called ‘credit crunch’ were felt across the global markets and the pinch here in Britain was somewhat catastrophic – in some way every single person here today whatever your age, profession or social status will have been affected by the down turn in the economy.
Since the 1980’s the growth in the financial and service sectors within the British economy was phenomenal – business management, information technology and banking offered attractive perks and lucrative salaries.  Careers in these sectors were not only deemed fashionable, but they were also well respected.

However the bubble burst, boom time was over and we watched helplessly as our economy and creditability as one of the worlds most powerful nations crumbled around us.
Two years on and the UK economy is improving however not without a struggle, there is the looming threat of the heavily reported double dip recession and the huge black cloud of Britain’s astronomical debts, estimated to be upwards of  billions of pounds!!!
Every day we watch the news and read the papers; the political parties are pointing the finger of blame and laying their claims as to what went so terribly wrong.  However, what are we, as a Nation, doing to move forward? To rebuild our economy? And strive again as one of the worlds leading figure heads?
The million dollar, or should I say the billion pound question……
This brings me back to my point… I believe that it is “Engineering that makes the world go round.”

A nation dominated by ‘finance and banking’ saw the economy come to a near standstill as the credit crunch took hold… it suddenly seemed that money could not make our world go round.  So perhaps now it is the turn of the industrial sector to get the economy back on track. There is great speculation that countries who ‘make things’ are in a better position to weather economic instability compared to those, like us who don’t regard manufacturing and other industrial professions highly enough.
If Britain’s industrial sector could once again boom perhaps this would re-cement stable foundations on which our economy as a whole could stand upon and be rebuilt to a greater height and strength than ever before.
Throughout history countless British engineers have helped shaped the world we know today – one whom I am sure you are all familiar with is Isambard Kingdom Brunel – famous for his work on projects including the Great Western Railway and the Clifton Suspension Bridge (in Bristol).
Through the likes of Brunel, Britain was respected as an authority on engineering… Fundamentally the Industrial Revolution, our contributions to science and engineering and our enviable reputation for the manufacture of high quality products… is what made Britain Great.  From this we were a wealthy nation financially, but also rich in skills and knowledge.
During my lifetime however, the British engineering and industrial sectors, in particular manufacturing have been rapidly declining.
I am here today to tell you about my experiences as an Engineer and help open your eyes to an exceptional and exciting world hidden in the shadows of the glamour of a career in the media or the sophistication and finesse of those working in the financial sector.
Many of you here today are young people beginning your journey and making choices that will influence the rest of your life; whether you are deciding on your GCSEs or looking ahead to college and university courses or vocational qualifications, there is a pathway into engineering.  It is an industry accessible to everyone.

However also here with us today, we have business people from a wide cross section of industries and professions – I also have an important message for them…
Firstly, I suppose to many of you it might seem strange for a woman to be standing here talking about a career in engineering.  I believe that this is a myth we need to expel; what is your first image when you here the word engineer? Heavy lifting, oil, grease and fixing cars?
Much of the engineering world is a far cry from this and being an engineer does not automatically have the prerequisites of needing physical strength that is naturally attributed to being a ; there is a much bigger part of engineering that is greatly associated with maths and science related skills – but for the less academic don’t let that scare you off!! There is scope for those more artistically minded, the creative flair that these people have is required for the design side of engineering, not to mention those with a practical mindset and common sense, who are good with their hands, needed for solving real life engineering problems.
Engineering is a combination of logical thinking and commonsense combined with an inventive imagination….

On leaving school I studied for a Masters in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Surrey, I have now taken the reins at my family’s manufacturing company, AR Engineering Industries.  We are a small business located just up the road in Wilmington and serve industries including aerospace, automotive and utilities. These industries are all very high-tech and exciting and although we all use aeroplanes, cars and boats, engineering can also be found a lot closer to home… our clients’ also include the local butcher, gardeners, golf club and the Parker pen company. Yes that’s right – a pen company, everybody here will use a pen today I am sure!!
Suddenly now can you see that engineering is all around us, literally everything we touch and use has been influenced by some form of engineering.  This school building has been engineered – the design and structure and everything it houses, including the chairs that you sit on.  Everyday in the news we hear stories – the latest developments for Lewis Hamilton’s F1 car, the construction of the London 2012 Olympic sites and today the rescue effort for the trapped minors in South America – all of these are examples of great feats of engineering.
When viewed like this perhaps the importance of engineering becomes more apparent – engineering affects our environment – our health – our lifestyles – it affects us everyday.
I am passionate about engineering – beneath the geeky exterior it is an exciting and dynamic industry, ever changing and evolving with technological advances, every day is different and offers new challenges and best of all it is rewarding – as an engineer you can see your achievements, you can stand back and think I helped to make that, I helped get those wheels turning, that plane flying or that building standing….
So why is it that in recent times the engineering industry and engineering as a career has not been fully supported, encouraged and respected by our government and the culture of Britain today?  Why is it that people are not interested in working in engineering when it has so much to offer?
If we can find a positive out of the recession, there is now a realisation of the value that skilled industry sectors have in the economy.  Gradually the focus is being put back on sectors such as manufacturing, and in particular the smaller businesses who are in essence the smaller cogs that keep the larger wheels turning.

Recently under a scheme supported and funded by the Government, AR Engineering has recruited two manufacturing and engineering apprentices, to whom we will provide vocational training, whilst employing them and they will be gaining hands on experience in order to develop and nurture their interest to become engineers.  This is a great contribution to the planned growth of our business whilst valuably supporting and encouraging people to enter into the industry.  So far the scheme has been a great success and it is something we hope to continue with for years to come.  Many other companies are again looking towards apprenticeships to help bring the skills back to the ground level of companies, so rather than just being the high-end management executives, we have home grown skilled work forces who can manufacture and produce high quality British goods.
So you guys deciding what subjects to study and what career path to follow – have you even considered engineering?  Maybe you’ll spare it a second thought now?  And whether you want to head off to University and follow the path I have taken, or opt for the practical hands on approach the door to engineering is reopening wider than ever before….
But this is where my message can reach out to all of you, I truly believe engineering and industrial sectors to be the key to the revival of the UK.  But to thrive we need your support.  We need to make better use of our own skills and resources and what industry does remain today, in order to help flourish again tomorrow.
Buying cheaper imported goods on a cost basis is often the easiest and in some ways the most logical option, in the short tem – however at what cost is this to our future generations? This is an important question we should ask ourselves.  Last year Britain’s manufacturing output was approximately 13 % lower than 2008 – the fastest fall since 1948, when records began, this imply job losses and money being spent abroad to procure these items.
It would be an unrealistic idealism to say we should manufacture everything in Britain and buy only British products, however little by little if every person made one or two small changes to their lives and the products and services we buy, in order to support a local business or a British company perhaps we can all contribute to help rebuilding our economy and to once again help make Britain Great……next time you see ‘Made In Britain’ on one of the labels in front of you…. Think twice.

So with the government finally getting back on side, its now your turn; I hope from what I have said today you can see that we can all make a difference to help with the regeneration of this great nation…. Together let’s get our world turning again…. Return to our industrial roots and our engineering heritage and set the wheels in motion to manufacture our way back to our former glory.


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