Putting a value on engineers’ success
Since its announcement in November last year, the Queen Elizabeth Award for Engineering has generated considerable comment. Launched by the Government and the Royal Academy of Engineering, it has attracted cross-party support and is funded by 11 British and Indian companies including BP and Tata Steel. Most significantly, perhaps, it will award the winner the pleasingly round number of £1m.
Inevitably, comment about this has been both negative and positive, with some hailing this as "the Nobel Prize for Engineering", while others have tended to suggest it is window dressing that, while nice to win, does not address the fundamental issues facing the UK's engineering sector.
While having some sympathy for both sides of the argument, I would argue that this award is highly significant. However, I would say that its true significance lies not in its 'prestige' or its profile but in one, simple thing: the million-pound prize.
The direct association of engineering excellence with cold, hard cash is an association that will be welcome to many. For one thing, the 'prestige' associated with the prize is pretty much bound up in te financial reward for it.
There is nothing vulgar or inappropriate about making an explicit association in the public mind between engineering and financial success. Too often, we hear stories of excellent engineers who achieve amazing feats, but never see the rewards due to them. This would go some way to countering such tales.
After all, a story where engineering innovation results in the handing over of a large cheque seems likely to do more for the public perception of the profession than any amount of talk of heritage or vocation.
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