We’re delighted to welcome Paul Skerry to the Board of Trustees.
Paul brings more than 30 years’ experience in building and civil engineering to the role. In the last decade, he has focussed on the people aspects of infrastructure delivery, following his passion to create a more diverse workforce through improved training and education. Currently Technical Leader in People and Development at Laing O’Rourke, Paul also works as a senior panel advisor to industry organisations including the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), and the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors (CICES).
What led you to the engineering sector?
When I was at school I decided I wanted to be an architect, but was advised that I needed artistic skills as well as maths and science. I never really made the grade artistically, but then got involved in an engineering project through what is now the Engineering Education Scheme. I really loved it.
Later on, engineering gave me a different outlet for my creative side because I became fascinated by training and upskilling, which has been a driving force in my engineering career. I’ve had a very squiggly career rather than a linear one, but I’m living proof that there is space for creative people to do very well in engineering.
What inspired you to get involved with Engineers Without Borders UK?
I went along to a presentation at an ICE conference about what Engineers Without Borders UK was doing. My understanding of the organisation at that point was that they went into communities in low and middle income countries to try and make a difference. The presentation made me realise that they were really involved in education and qualifications – which of course is my big passion. Having learned a little more online, I thought “I really want to be involved!”
Engineers Without Borders UK gives me an opportunity to apply my own skills to support a rapidly developing and forward-thinking organisation.
I was really impressed with Engineers Without Borders UK’s Global Responsibility Competency Compass. It’s such a great tool for helping engineers to contribute towards net zero by making the direct link between day-to-day decisions and actions and those big global-, country- and company-level sustainability targets.
In your view, what are the barriers young people still face when it comes to pursuing careers in engineering?
A lot has been done through apprenticeships and I’m involved personally in developing alternative routes to qualification: for instance, for people from a different background or those who are coming up vocationally. I believe that there should always be a route to becoming a qualified engineer, but industry does have a tendency to create blockers.
It is up to employers, professional institutions and qualifications bodies to work together to devise routes that work for everybody. This includes making the career path attractive to Generation Z, embracing new and emerging technologies, and working in smarter ways. Engineers Without Borders UK provides one way for everyone to work together in a more coherent way to achieve the change we need.
Can you tell us a little more about your approach to attracting, retaining and developing the next generation of engineering talent and how this is changing the industry?
Attracting and developing the next generation is all about industry working more closely with education to align learning with real world opportunities. If we can have honest conversations about the challenges we are facing, we would attract better engineers coming through the system.
With regard to retention, apprenticeships play an important role in providing rotational experience, but it needs a mix of formal and informal training (such as mentoring) alongside on-the-job training to raise standards across the industry. Learning is a lifelong journey, so providing training opportunities at every stage is critical. We also need to provide our more senior engineers with the digital skills they need to communicate with, and inspire, the next generation.
What does global responsibility mean to you?
Global responsibility is a big topic and it is difficult sometimes to see how it applies at an individual level. In my role, I believe it is about training engineers to be the best version of themselves, so that they can go out into the world and do great things. It’s also about the small decisions we make as individuals that add up to something big. I don’t think we always appreciate the power we have as individuals to effect major change. Engineers need to understand that decisions they make now may take a long time to implement. For example, I was involved in tendering for Hinkley Point C, but the project will take a whole new generation of engineers to build.
Global responsibility is also about asking ourselves the right questions because they will have a big impact on the future. Can we do that in a different or more efficient way, can we do that using less resources, can we use our people more effectively?
I heard someone say recently that the current generation has seen the least innovation compared to any previous generation. Perhaps that is because we are not focusing properly on what is important. If we become more targeted in what we want to fix, maybe we will see a greater benefit. It’s all about bringing people, collaboration and innovation together in smarter ways. Engineers Without Borders UK offers a global responsibility framework that encourages us to ask the right questions and make the right choices.
Paul Skerry, incoming Trustee