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A focus on the UK’s historic strengths will underpin future growth

15 May 2017

Steven Gillard, Head of Government Affairs at Boeing UK & Ireland, on investing in STEM in order for the UK to remain competitive

As the UK embarks on a journey that will redefine its place in the world, people are asking; what is it that makes Great Britain “great” and what is it that we need to do better? 

Before getting under way, a small confession; this is written not by an engineer or a scientist but by someone with an international politics degree. But there is no need to spray tea over screens, we’re on the same side.

For context, experience shapes thinking and in this case after university, then teaching in China and witnessing the education system and aspirations of its students led to the civil service in Washington DC, working on bi-lateral defence policy issues and promoting the interests of UK industry. From there it was on to a major UK aerospace company, working on a UK-French programme, before leading the defence business of that company in India and drawing together UK industry there. Now at Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, which is growing in the UK at a breathtaking pace, hiring, on average, a new person a day here. 

Having a global mindset from this background leads to reflecting on what the UK does well, how Britain stacks up against the global competition, to then proactively promote those differentiators and strengths.

So, what is it that this country does well? It’s surprisingly simple: we produce Brians. Yes Brians. Admittedly, not any Brian but two specifically – Cox and May. Both of these Brians are highly technically competent and passionate about science. At the same time, both have enjoyed hugely successful careers in the creative industries. It is this powerful blend of STEM competencies and collaborative creativity that gives the UK its disruptive edge. Is there any other country that could have produced both Monty Python and the jet engine; graphene and The Rolling Stones; the World Wide Web and French and Saunders? Many could produce one, but both?

Boeing recognises the value of the UK as a breeding ground for technically skilled, creative, innovators and has partnerships with six leading UK universities. Boeing was the founding partner of the world-class University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in 2001. This partnership has subsequently attracted other leading industrial partners and has led to the creation of an advanced manufacturing and design skills ecosystem and a whole AMRC campus. The strength of this ecosystem has resulted in Boeing deciding to build its first European factory adjacent to the AMRC. 

The MOD is the world leader in innovative contracting for the support of military aircraft. Boeing sees the value of this customer’s innovative procurement approach on a daily basis. The through-life support of the RAF’s Chinook fleet by Boeing is at the cutting edge of fleet management services, with outside-of-the-box thinking and UK technical creativity benefiting the armed forces and the company.

Boeing spent more than £2bn with more than 250 UK suppliers in 2016. These companies, in collaboration with Boeing, harness technical-creative thinking to solve some of the most complex engineering challenges in aerospace today. This delivers huge value to the economy and society in the UK and is a great source of pride for the company.

So what next? Boeing supports the aims of the Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper. Focusing on core STEM competencies and industrial innovation – going “back to basics” in terms of the UK’s historic strengths – will support additional, sustainable growth. 

Boeing is committed to supporting and growing the UK’s STEM skills base, undertaking STEM outreach activities that reached more than 5,000 young people across the UK last year, in partnership with organisations such as the Royal Academy of Engineering, The Air League and The Prince’s Trust.  The strategic priority for Boeing’s community engagement is to create the pipeline of future innovators through nurturing 21st century skills development.  Boeing works with strategic university partners to bring real world experiences into the learning environment and is growing the number of apprenticeships, undergraduate placements and graduate opportunities it offers. Boeing employees are able to access lifelong learning programmes to stay ahead of technological developments. 

Boeing is also committed to keeping the UK at the leading edge of creative innovation. The company undertakes a number of curriculum enrichment activities with our university partners, aimed at giving STEM students the inter-personal and communication skills upon which collaborative innovation relies.

To work for a company that sees the value of a competitive UK within a global context and is investing in its long-term future for mutual benefit is a source of significant personal pride.

Companies like Boeing, working together with the Government, can ensure the UK retains its competitive edge by increasing its national STEM capabilities, being a catalyst for innovation and celebrating its creativity. This recipe should ensure that the UK is able to produce Brians – plus many more men and women like them – for generations to come.

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