Glitzy Awards for Engineers
Byline: JONATHAN WALKER
Artists such as Damien Hirst have risen to prominence after winning the Turner Prize, while writers including Ian McEwan and Kingsley Amis saw their books fly off the shelves after winning the Booker Prize for literature.
Now, employers in the West Midlands have welcomed plans to create a high-profile award for engineering - to try to give it some of the glitz and renown of the creative arts.
The idea was proposed by inventor and entrepreneur Sir James Dyson, who warned Britain's economy urgently needed more skilled engineers.
And it was backed by the West Midlands branch of the Engineering Employers' Federation, which represents thousands of manufacturing companies, and said firms were struggling to fill well-paid vacancies, despite high levels of unemployment in the region.
Spokesman Stuart Ritchie said: "These are good jobs but there just aren't enough people to do them."
Sir James, in a study commissioned by the Conservative Party, warned that science and engineering subjects are being sidelined in schools and struggling to shake off a "dreary" image.
As a result, pupils were rejecting relevant courses - and the numbers taking A-level physics in England fell from just under 30,000 in 1992 to 24,730 in 2006.
The report warns: "The public perception of science and engineering is of geeks and mechanics. The achievements of scientists and engineers are rarely recognised or sufficiently commended.
"Unsurprisingly, this continuing misconception does not inspire young people to study these subjects, nor does it encourage high tech companies to flourish in our economy." A possible solution would be to create an annual engineering prize to promote debate and recognise innovative projects that solved problems such as the need to preserve the environment.
The report said: "Celebration of achievements will undoubtedly stimulate cultural interest.
"The Stirling, Booker and Turner prizes, in architecture, literature and the visual arts respectively, are effective promotional tools."
The report also set out a series of other proposals to boost engineering and high-technology manufacturing.
They include speeding up the decision-making process for major projects such as high speed rail or nuclear power; setting up a Government-backed body to publicise success stories, and helping firms explain to school pupils that engineering was a good career choice. …