National Grid's This is Engineering article 'Why there's never been a more exciting time to be an engineer'

Why there’s never been a more exciting time to be an engineer

Here David Wright, Director of Electricity Transmission and Chief Electricity Engineer, explains how choosing a career as an engineer can make an immense difference to the world now – and in the future.

Portrait photo of David Wright - used for the National Grid story 'Diversity must underpin the net zero energy workforce'

The world’s progress is driven by engineers; from the canal systems used to transport goods in the 1800s to the iPhones so many of us use today. Engineers bring ideas to life, shape the future, design and build a better world for all of us.

As an engineer in 2020, you have the unique opportunity to create a sustainable future for our planet, enhancing living standards for all and solving the big problem facing the world today. Engineers make a difference.

In my own career, job satisfaction highlights have been spear-heading the reduction of carbon emissions and waste. Only a few years ago, we were sending 60% of our office and construction project waste to landfill. Now it’s less than one per cent. Being involved in shifting the mindset and changing the culture on waste, as well as enabling the UK’s electricity grid to decarbonise, is one of my proudest achievements. But I recognise we still have a way to go in reaching our net zero commitment – and halting the speed of climate change.

That’s why National Grid is proud to be supporting the Royal Academy of Engineering’s This is Engineering Day on 4 November 2020. Under the theme of ‘be the difference’, we’re showcasing some of the ways that engineering shapes the world for the better and how young people, from all backgrounds, can make that difference by choosing a career in engineering.

Be the difference

I can’t think of another industry that will have a bigger positive climate impact than the energy industry. Right now our engineers are problem-solving across the grid – exploring things like how clean energy hydrogen can be transmitted through our existing network to heat our homes and workplaces, and how we can connect significant offshore wind power to the electricity transmission.

We’re accelerating the conversion of the energy industry, alongside the day-to-day operation of an increasingly renewable energy system.

I always think the UK is a bit of a petri dish for engineering innovations. We’re an island nation with one of the largest economies in the world and a unique set of challenges, like not being blessed with constant solar energy. If we can create sustainable engineering solutions here in the UK, then we can spread our learnings around the world.  

Engineering skills have always been incredibly valuable, driving the development of the world. As we work together to tackle climate change, the esteem in which engineers – the change makers and problem solvers – are held is only going to grow.

New ideas, greater creativity and different perspectives

Tackling climate change requires a diverse workforce made up of people from all backgrounds and genders. They will bring new ideas, greater creativity and different perspectives and expertise to help us build a net zero energy workforce. Women, representing just 12% of UK engineers today, are a huge talent base. That’s why I want to see a much greater diversity in engineering.

We need to create a broader base of people, all working together to achieve a more sustainable society. Engineering is about creativity and science – we need more creative people, as well as those with strong skills in maths, physics and chemistry.

There’s never been a more exciting time to be an engineer, to grasp the opportunity of a generation to help change the way we live and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Be the difference – be an engineer.