Patrick Kniveton is the 128th President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) having been in the role since May 2013.
The Yorkshireman was clearly excited to be back up north this month, having trained at Hebburn-based engineering firm Reyrolle before commissioning the Isaac Newton Telescope for Newcastle firm, Grubb Parsons.
He said: “I’m returning home in one respect because I worked here for 23 years of my life and then in 1999 I moved to Derby where I worked for Rolls-Royce.
“It’s great to come back here as my family were all born up here and I always follow the local football club, the black and whites, of course. You could say I’m very strongly attached to the region.”
So what’s Kniveton’s views on the North East’s engineering sector today?
“The British industry as a whole is regenerating and wherever I’ve gone, companies are showing how innovative they are. Firms such as IHCEB in the region really stand out for me - they are amazing.
“The company is growing very fast and they have great hope for their engineers. Those engineers have very exciting careers ahead of them which shows real growth for the future.”
Kniveton himself has led a varied career. He spent two years developing commercial skills as a sales engineer at SKF Engineering Products, then became engineering manager at Rotawing Fans, where he designed air-conditioning systems.
Joining Rolls-Royce Controls in systems design, he then developed and joint-patented a technology for electronic motorway signs.
As engineering manager for Rolls-Royce Materials Handling in 1999 he then moved to Derby, as head of Business Management, Gas Turbine Operations Engineering.
Following this, he joined Rolls-Royce Marine Power as head of infrastructure in 2007 and launched multi-million pound office and factory redevelopments.
Since 2009, Kniveton has been head of engineering improvement for Rolls-Royce submarines - a multi-£100m business in the nuclear sector - and now drives process improvement for engineering areas and leads business management for the engineering function.
Despite all of this, Kniveton is modest about his achievements.
He said: “We are a very modest bunch of people, we do have the status, but we just don’t tell anybody about it. If we were more outspoken about what we do and how we affect people’s lives, then that would help.
“When people say car mechanics or washing machine repair people are not engineers, it’s wrong. While they may not be ‘Chartered’ engineers, they are very much a part of the core fabric of what we do. We need people in the sector across all areas, including those who can fix things and people on the shopfloor.”
Kniveton was Deputy President of IMechE from 2011 to 2013. Now at the helm, he takes part in many graduate recruitment activities for Rolls-Royce. He also acts as a mentor for engineers.
He said: “The difficulty is actually recruiting enough engineers because of the shortfall. We need about twice the number of engineers that universities are currently producing. Engineering is a very exciting, very professional, very interesting career for anybody.”
However Kniveton adds a word of warning. He said: “We have to be careful as a profession that we don’t overload schools with too many different initiatives all trying to achieve the same thing.
“It can be very confusing for teachers and we have to give a clear unified message. I’m currently working with EngineeringUK and the Engineering Council to try and get the message simplified so we are all reporting in the same direction.”
He added that the future is bright for engineering in the North East.
He said: “We had 2,600 engineers worldwide registered as Chartered or Incorporated last year, 160 of those were here in the North East - which is quite a high proportion.”
So does Kniveton think the Government is doing enough to highlight the sector’s importance?
“The Government, and in fact all parties, are much more switched on to the importance of engineering in the North East. The MPs I’ve met have all been highly-committed people working hard to get the message across.”
So what does he want to achieve?
Kniveton said: “Meeting the fantastic new Chartered engineers of the IHCEB, I hope I have encouraged them all to speak out more about what they do and be proud about it.
“It’s all about making people aware of how important they are in everybody’s daily lives.”