Response to Capital Engineers
I was interested to read Boris Johnson’s article, Capital Engineers (Ingenia 37). It is good to see his commitment to developing the engineers of the future. The recent Engineering & Technology Board report published in December provides some interesting data. Whilst it remains difficult to recruit students to electrical engineering degree programmes, across the breadth of engineering there has been a growth of 2.29% in engineering and technology graduates over the last five years. Now, 72% of these leavers go to work for an employer whose primary activity is in, or is directly related to, engineering and technology and less than one in ten employers said they found it hard to fill graduate vacancies. Over that period, only 3% of engineering and technology graduates went into the City. The greatest area of skills shortage vacancies is the skilled trades (over 60%).
So the trend has been in the right general direction but in the long term, to ensure Britain is well placed to fight its corner over the next 30 years, we must still do more to encourage STEM subjects and an understanding of engineering. This must start in schools; it should encourage the real value of apprenticeship or technical-based careers. With this focus there will be an automatic increase in the brightest students pursuing degrees. Only by taking such a grassroots approach will we have the skills to deliver the great infrastructure challenges of the future in the UK and overseas.
Finally, I am pleased to see the various engineering bodies starting to combine their resources on joint policy and commuications initatives. This is likely to make an improvement in the availability of engineering and technology skills.
John Armitt CBE FREng
Chairman, Olympic Delivery Authority
(See previous article: Capital Engineers)
Communications with unserved areas of the world
Dr Mo Ibrahim’s excellent International Lecture and subsequent interview in Ingenia 37 set the scene for the way in which communications have been provided to countries outside the industrialised centres of the world. The initiatives of his company, Celtel, in Africa were central to bringing mobile communications to a large part of that continent.
We are moving to a situation where half of the world’s population lives in cities. Already over 70% of people in Europe and North America live in urban areas. There is a steady drift to the city in all countries, driven by housing, work and community culture. By 2015, there will be 22 mega-cities with 20 million population each. With such population density, in market economies, it is hardly surprising that the large telecommunication operators focus on this opportunity rather than the rural environment.
However, with increasing dependence on the internet and mobile communications, governments are focusing on bringing broadband services to all, regardless of location. It can bring increased efficiency in government administration (all the processing of taxes, permissions, licences and information, not to mention compiling data bases on people and what they do).
Broadband communications on a country-wide universal service model have experienced a new impetus with the recent world financial crisis. Governments have been looking for infrastructure projects that will assist the development of the future economy. One such, identified by US President Obama, has been to facilitate infrastructure that will bring broadband internet services to all Americans. Australia has a similar programme for its citizens and in the UK there is an initiative known as Digital Britain. However, Canada was in fact years ahead of all this in promoting broadband communications to its rural people and First Nations communities in the far north of that country.
A key challenge is both money and political commitment. Canada has put real money, many millions of dollars, into it. The US, devoted to the free market model, has promised substantial tax relief for those companies willing to commit their own efforts and resources. The UK, in the ultimate free market model, has simply promised political commitment to the concept.
At issue is the conflict between the philosophy of the free market, where events are dictated by the need for an investor to see a palpable return, and the alternative philosophy of a government role in putting financial resource from taxes into the evolution of infrastructure to benefit society. Unfortunately, in the UK’s very free market model our utilities have been split up across the country, resulting in inefficiencies and poor service to the consumer, particularly in rural areas. One of the key points made by Mo Ibrahim was that his company set a premise of no roaming charges across the different operations throughout Africa. It was undoubtedly a major element of the success and universality of service to consumers.
If only we might learn such lessons on universal service in Europe and indeed in the UK.
Dr J R Forrest CBE FREng
Deputy Chairman, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd
(See previous article: A conversation with Dr Mo Ibrahim)