Dr Hayaatun Sillem CBE discusses opportunities for engineering in policymaking

Imperial Policy Forum welcomed Dr Hayaatun Sillem CBE, CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering to Imperial College.

Professor Mary Ryan, Vice-Provost (Research and Enterprise) spoke with Dr Sillem about her career path, the future of the engineering profession, and its role in policy.

The event was the fourth in a series of "In-Conversation" style events organised by Imperial Policy forum. The series is open to Imperial staff, students and alumni and features inspiring and influential speakers from organisations and backgrounds that cross the boundary between public policy and research.

Engineering and science within the government structure

Professor Ryan asked Dr Sillem about her views on whether government structures allows for effective engagement from scientists and engineers. Dr Sillem reflected on the recent changes to government departments including the creation of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) which took on policy responsibilities from the former Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. She explained the creation of DSIT was a positive opportunity for a department dedicated to science and engineering to be more central to government policymaking.

Dr Sillen also spoke about the pace of technological development acting as a significant driver in the ways in which government operates because of its impact on society overall. Technological developments such as AI are faster and more extensive now than ever before, and we should expect to see government having to regularly adapt and accommodate this.

Attracting talent and skills in engineering

Dr Sillem highlighted the need for more flexibility when it comes to attracting people to the field of engineering. She expressed her opinion that it is not realistic to grow an engineering career "from scratch" for everyone and we need to create more access points through opportunities such as Masters conversion courses to enable people with an interest in engineering to change their career path. Dr Sillem believes there is an opportunity for universities to consider how they can support with upskilling in this sector.

Effectively engaging policymakers

Asked about her advice for scientists and researchers interested engaging with policymakers, Dr Sillem highlighted the importance of evidence-based engagement. She cautioned against straying into debates where there is a lack of evidence to support policy asks and the importance of self-awareness when it comes to expertise and what you are best placed to advise on. Dr Sillem believes there is an obligation to be incredibly careful and follow the evidence when engaging with policymakers.

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The future of the engineering profession

Dr Sillem was asked by members of the audience about her perspective on how to make the engineering profession inclusive and ensure that it adapts to the changes we see within society. She believes it is important to offer avenues for people with a different education background opportunities to become engineers, reflecting and building upon the skills they have already developed. This is something the data science profession does well, by offering bootcamps, and short courses which give people a taste of the profession at a later point in their life. Dr Sillem also believes the skills that underpin the engineering profession can be found in many other sectors including creative and problem-solving fields. She referred to current opportunities in the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology , and secondments to parliamentary select committee staff. Government needs more scientific thinking in how it designs and delivers policy, so more exchange between the worlds of policy and academia is a positive goal to work towards.

Dr Sillem ended the event by expressing her excitement about the future of engineering and its ability to impact the future trajectory of the UK.