Engineers are not blowing their own trumpets

From Mr Fred J. Perkins.

Sir, While I entirely agree with Sir James Dyson (Letters, July 19) and Sir John Parker (“Call for more engineers to help boost economy”, report, July 18), there is a huge public relations gap to overcome.

I well remember the professor (in 1966) on the first day of my engineering course at Glasgow University, telling us: “We’re not going to teach you how to build radios, or power stations, or bridges. (It’d be obsolete by the time you graduate.) We’re here to teach you how to think ... to analyse and to solve problems. An engineer is someone who can do for five bob [25p to younger readers] what any fool can do for a pound.”

Then followed four years of intensive education, with double the lecture/laboratory workload of almost all of our contemporaries. Those of us who made it (less than half who started) did indeed graduate with the skills to turn their hands to almost any role where analysis and problem-solving are required.

But in an era where reality television, whether it’s The Apprentice or Britain’s Got Talent, suggests to youngsters that success is all about charisma and celebrity value, universities have a tough challenge to persuade entrants that an engineering education is a fantastic preparation for real life. A media studies course sounds far more attractive.

Engineers tend to quietly get on with things, solving problems and creating new products. Public recognition and celebrity fame is the last thing most of us seek; the reward is in the satisfaction of solving the problem. I guess that’s why few of us are politicians. But we’re there at the top of successful enterprises everywhere.

Maybe we need to hire better PR consultants.

Fred J. Perkins,

Founder and Chief Executive,

Information TV,

London W1, UK

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