Over the last couple of years I have been writing a book about the political economy of economic growth. This has involved me in looking at why at particular times countries have caught up with those at the technological frontier, and why other countries have forged ahead or fallen behind.
What emerges from all these different case studies is the overwhelming importance of the generation and diffusion of new technology. I think I have always known and believed this, but having seen the extent to which it explains the economic growth of different countries I have been thinking once again about how we can encourage young people to see engineering as an exciting and challenging career, and one that makes the world a better place.
As you know, this was one of my goals which I had in mind when I set up the Sainsbury Management Fellows Scheme. It is also a goal that I have continued to pursue in a number of different ways and I thought that this evening I would say a word about some of the schemes I have initiated and supported, what has been achieved, and how you can help take this agenda forward.
There are three successful schemes that I would like to mention. The first is the STEM Ambassador’s Scheme which is a national scheme which I initiated when I was in Government and which involves people from STEM backgrounds going into schools to act as inspiring role models for young people. This can take the form of contributing to regular lessons or participating in extra-curricular activities. STEM ambassadors can open the door to a whole new world for young people, helping them to see STEM subjects and careers with a fresh perspective and engaging their interest and imagination in new ways. The Scheme registers each Ambassador and also gives them training. The Scheme was established in 2002. By 2008 the number of Ambassadors had reached 18,000, and the number now stands at over 28,000 individuals drawn from over 3,000 employers.
The second Scheme I would like to mention is the Scheme for after-school STEM Clubs which allow children to explore and discover STEM subjects in a stimulating learning environment away from the constraints of the prescribed curriculum. The aim is to complement the curriculum and they are designed so that they do not involve writing, tests or examinations. In this way they can motivate and build confidence in young people who struggle with STEM subjects and, at the same time, provide an extra outlet for children who already show aptitude and are interested in furthering their learning.
The programme was established in 2006 with 250 schools piloting the Scheme and has proved very successful. The number of schools participating doubled to 500 in 2008. By 2010 the number of schools in the STEM clubs network had reached 1,500 and by March 2011 there were over 2,000 state schools signed up, representing around 50% of all schools in the UK.
The third initiative I want to mention is the Big Bang Fair. This was launched in 2009 to bring together in a single fair the numerous science and engineering competitions aimed at young people. The first event in 2009 attracted around 8,000 people and by 2011 just three years later the number had risen to 29,000 people. The expectation is that these numbers will continue to grow as word spreads throughout the schools network and more and more industrial partners come on board.
I mention these schemes because I think they demonstrate very clearly that one can enormously improve the effectiveness of all the schemes to encourage young people to see engineering as an exciting, rewarding career, by getting people to work together.
I also think that we have now turned the corner on the number of young people doing science and technology subjects at GCSE and A level, and that if we continue to enthusiastically push forward this agenda and co-ordinate all our efforts, we can significantly change young people’s view of careers in science and technology.
Having mentioned these Schemes by way of background I would like to say how much I value the work of the Sainsbury Management Fellows in taking this agenda forward. There is no better way to encourage young people to take up careers in science and technology than seeing young scientists and engineers doing exciting and socially valuable jobs which are also well rewarded. So I am delighted that of the 275 Sainsbury Management Fellows who have graduated from business schools and the 10 who are studying for their degrees, 60 Fellows have started up or run their own businesses, spanning a wide range of industries. 100 Fellows are working in senior positions in FTSE Companies, and Sainsbury Management Fellows have acted as mentors to over 450 RAEng leadership award students over the past 15 years. I am also delighted to see that so many Sainsbury Management Fellows are now leading green companies.
Chris Shelley – Green Power Corporation, Tom Delay – The Carbon Trust, Bill Sneyd – Homesun, Gordon Wylie – Free Green Electricity Corporation, to name but a few. And one of our newest Sainsbury Management Fellows graduates, Phil Westcott, has just been hired by IBM to work on the Smart Grid.
I am delighted to announce that a Sainsbury Management Fellow will be invited to take up the role of visiting Professor in Sustainable Wealth Creation at Nottingham University Business School. This has been arranged by the RAEng and will be a fantastic opportunity to shape the thinking of the next generation and give them the incentive to take up careers in the extremely important area of sustainability.
The Visiting Professor will work with the University’s International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility and the Institute for Enterprise and Innovation to contribute to their research, teaching and business engagement work. This will involve working with undergraduates, post-graduates and research students as well as MBA students. For example, the Visiting Professor will be expected to lecture to MSc entrepreneurship students as part of their innovation and technology transfer module.
I think this is a very exciting opportunity and could make a very useful contribution to the agenda of encouraging young people to see engineering as an exciting and challenging career and one which makes the world a better place.
Finally, I pleased that the Society is taking steps to evolve to a company limited by guarantee and registered charity and that a key result of the recent members’ survey is that 70% of the Sainsbury Management Fellows interviewed said that they believed the Sainsbury Management Fellows could be both an alumni and an influencing organization. That is the direction I hope the Sainsbury Management Fellows will continue to pursue in the coming years.
Now there is a critical mass of Sainsbury Management Fellows you have the ability to make a huge impact on the way that young people see engineers in business and I hope you will pursue this agenda with all the energy and enthusiasm that you have brought to your activities in the past.
I think that while I was in government I learnt three lessons about getting change to take place. The first is that it takes time and one needs to fight on a broad front. Secondly, when things are going well one needs to work hard to broadcast the fact, and, thirdly, that it is essential to show people that change and innovation will benefit them. The last point is something I have learnt over the years.
In the case of engineering education and the Sainsbury Management Scheme I think we still have a long way to go in getting across the message to industry and government that engineering can play a major role in raising the level of productivity and growth in the economy, and that this is something we should all be focusing on now. The idea that bringing in legislation to make it easier to fire staff is going to make much difference to the growth of British companies seems to me to be ludicrous. What we need is much more emphasis on innovation and skills.
Looking ahead, I am delighted that the SMF has now become a registered charity. I understand that Keith Lawrey of the Foundation for Science and Technology, who is with us tonight, has been helping the SMF Committee with the process of incorporation and applying for charitable status and I would like to thank him for all he has done.
I am also extremely pleased that the SMF has taken the first steps in getting in extra funds, and in this way enabling itself to do more and secure the very long-term future of the Society, so that whoever addresses you in twenty-five years’ time will be able to point to even greater progress. As I have a hundred year old mother I don’t necessarily rule myself out from that role, but the judgment of members of my family tends to be slightly erratic after the age of 90. Let me end by saying how well I think the society has done over the last twenty-five year. I can think of few things more important than the work the society is doing.