Innovation in Engineering

The vital role of innovation for UK engineering in a post-Brexit world

In this, the third in my series of six pieces on the future of the UK’s engineering sector post-Brexit, I will be examining the vital role of innovation in preserving and developing the prosperity of British engineering.

Innovation has long been a factor behind Britain’s success as a world engineering leader. The extent to which it can take advantage of the opportunities afforded by Brexit will depend to a great extent on how successful the nation is in understanding, safeguarding and developing innovation within the industry.

Defining innovation

At the most basic level, innovation is about the successful creation and delivery of new ideas or major new improvements to deliver financial or societal benefit, and, subsequently, improvements in people’s lives. With so many new concepts and inventions today, it is highly unlikely that innovation can actually stem from just one person or even one small group of people.

The vital importance of collaboration

Successful innovation almost always depends upon a variety of groups and individuals who share appropriate skills and ideas and then work to deliver a solution to an end user who may never have seen the solution to be delivered, or indeed had any conception of how it would work. Successful innovation is also highly dependent on the extent to which there is, across every group and every process within a particular project, a clearly defined strategy to determine how the innovation will eventually be delivered to the end user.

British innovation has come to depend on the vast range of knowledge and experience available beyond its own shores, drawing on this expertise and know-how to develop and refine new ideas, concepts and approaches. This dependence is highlighted in a recent report from the European Startup Monitor which found that 25% of UK startups were founded by non-UK EU nationals, with 45% of UK startup employees coming from non-UK EU countries. The fact that many EU countries are now actively encouraging UK startups to relocate to EU countries should be ringing warning bells, as this presents a serious challenge to the future of collaborative innovation in the UK. The time to act on this is now.

An industry at the crossroads

The UK can and should act with assurance and confidence, drawing on its reputation as a leader in innovation to develop programmes which spread a wider net, drawing in collaborators from much further afield than the EU alone. Such ventures would rely heavily upon strategic management and upon ample funding. Britain’s very future as an innovative leader will depend on both.

My next article will look in closer detail at what is required to develop these kinds of projects.