02 Nov 2022
By Stuart Patrick, Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce
There is a decent-sized iron plaque on the Cavenagh Bridge across the Singapore River that simply reads P&W MacLellan Engineers 1868 Glasgow. It is Singapore’s only suspension bridge and one of the oldest of the city’s river crossings and I came across the sign on a summer visit.
Opened in 1870, the structure first linked the city’s civic district to its commercial centre and today provides a pedestrian connection from the Asian Civilisations Museum on the north to the towering office blocks of Fullerton Square on the south. It was built and tested by P&W MacLellan in Glasgow and shipped across to Singapore in sections in 1869.
This is just one example of the global legacy of Glasgow’s engineering industry and I bring it to your attention simply because today is National Engineering Day.
Having a national day for engineering is the brainchild of the Royal Academy of Engineering and is designed to raise public awareness of the impact engineers have on the way we live today and to help encourage young people from all geographies, genders and cultural backgrounds to consider engineering as a career. Glasgow has a special reason to pay attention since the Royal Academy’s current President is our own Professor Sir Jim McDonald, principal of the University of Strathclyde.
Mentioning Glasgow’s historical role in the evolution of engineering risks nostalgic depression at the loss of the shipyards and the locomotive engineering plants that dominated the city in the heyday of its heavy industrial past. It is certainly true that manufacturing no longer plays anything like the role it once did and that its unnecessarily swift contraction in the early 1980’s left Glasgow with an economic development mountain to climb. But it would be plain wrong to think that Glasgow is no longer an engineering city.
There are 52,000 jobs in manufacturing in the Glasgow city region, another 37,000 in transportation and a further 8,000 in power supplies. Engineering is fundamental to each of these industries.
It’s not hard to find examples of impressive engineering projects. On the banks of the Clyde in Govan sits HMS Glasgow, the first of the Royal Navy’s new Type 26 frigates and one of the most complex technical challenges in today’s engineering world. There is also the three miles of Scottish Water’s Shieldhall Tunnel opened in 2018 – five times longer than the Clyde Tunnel, it improves water quality in the River Clyde while reducing the risk of flooding. Scottish Power’s Whitelee Windfarm is yet another excellent example, the biggest in the UK and in the top five in Europe, with new projects underway to develop a green hydrogen production facility and a battery energy storage system.
It's also very easy to find some practical engineering inspiration for younger family members in Glasgow. Pay a visit to the Glasgow Science Centre – crowned by the public as this year’s favourite business at the Glasgow Business Awards. There are plenty of interactive exhibits like Powering the Future or Quantum Technologies which both explain the engineering involved and the fact that you can build an engineering career here in the city right now.
If we are to achieve our climate change goals for 2030, we have to transform our public transport and energy systems and encouraging the next generation of engineers is vital. We have emerging industries in advanced manufacturing, quantum and photonics, space communications, telecommunications and renewable technologies that will need a steady stream of new talent to help them grow.
Our professional engineers today support projects all across the world just as they did back in 1868 and the largest job growth in any sector in the city between 2016 and 2019 was architectural and engineering services with over 4,000 new jobs created. Over the next ten years, our three innovation districts in Glasgow will become the nerve centres of our next engineering economy and National Engineering Day reminds us how attractive an engineering career in Glasgow can be.
This article was first published in The Herald on Wednesday 2 November 2022