Board to be ‘voice of technology’

Tackling the big strategic issues is the aim of the new Engineering and Technology Board which will champion the interests of the UK’s 1.8m scientists, engineers and technologists

The blueprint for the new Engineering and Technology Board, proposed successor to the Engineering Council and would-be voice for the UK’s entire technology-based community, has been finalised.

Agreement on the structure and targets for the new organisation has paved the way for its launch early next year.

A ’shell’ ETB could be set up in October. Headhunters are currently searching for a chief executive and chairman.

The new structure is the result of an initiative by science minister Lord Sainsbury and Engineering Council chairman Dr Robert Hawley. Its overriding aim will be to engage with and to champion the ’wider engineering and technology community’. The body will aim to represent the UK’s 1.8m scientists, engineers and technologists, of which only 270,000 are professionals on the Engineering Council’s register.

A clear split between the Council’s twin roles of policing professional standards and promoting the profession is seen as crucial to the new body’s success. Accordingly, the former will be handled by the New Regulatory Body or NRB, leaving the remainder of the organisation to concentrate on promoting and representing the technology community.

The NRB will operate in a significantly different way from the Engineering Council, with the professional engineering institutions having a high degree of representation on the NRB’s board, alongside independent members. This is designed to remove a source of friction which has always dogged the Council. ’Instead of the Engineering Council regulating almost in spite of the institutions, these will now own the regulatory process to a much greater extent than before,’ says marketing and communications director David Worskett.

The new ETB will be open to anyone whose job involves engineering and technology, and will spend its time ’identifying the big strategic issues and tackling them’.

There are five immediate priorities. First is reversing the trend toward fewer teenagers doing maths and science A-levels. Second, matching the output of the education system to industry’s needs. Third, the ETB must build links with people and companies in the broader technology community, who don’t necessarily see themselves as engineers.

This will make it a more influential and relevant organisation. The fourth priority is to provide support to schools and teachers. Finally, the ETB must work with the engineering institutions on promoting continuing professional development, or CPD.

Cultural change

Engineering Council sources stress that although there will be some continuity in the regulatory function, the Council faces a considerable culture change. No one yet has a job with the ETB and existing Council staff will have to compete with outside applicants for posts in the new structure.

The ETB will operate through five panels which broadly reflect the priorities set out above.

The Life-long Development panel will consider issues affecting schools, universities, and CPD. Communications will look at ways of raising the profile of engineering and technology.

The Wider Community panel will make sure the organisation engages with its new audience and addresses the needs of people as diverse as software engineers, chief executives of biotechnology companies and experts in nanotechnology. The Business and Industry panel will address the needs of the Engineering Council’s established audience.

Finally a Registrants panel will represent the Engineering Council’s existing membership.

None of the panels is set in stone, says Worskett: ’It’s easy to imagine, after a number of years, that the Wider Community and Business and Industry panels would merge.’

He stresses that none of the reforms are a criticism of the Council. But promoting the profession was never its primary activity, and the new dual structure will allow the regulatory and promotional arms to be completely focused.

While the way should be clear to set up the ETB, which will be a non-profit company limited by guarantee, the NRB will take longer. It will inherit a slimmed down version of the Engineering Council’s royal charter and any changes have first to be agreed by the senate and then by the Privy Council, probably early next year.

What will turn the ETB from a collection of panels into a body with real clout will be its ability to attract influential people. This would ensure that the panel members who make the decisions have a high enough profile in their own fields to start ’pulling levers’ to implement them.

How confident is the ETB of attracting these people from the wider community? Worskett says: ’In the market research and in the work we’ve done since, we asked this wider customer base what they wanted.

’They said if you come back with well thought-out proposals we’re right behind you and we’ll join in. And the sort of changes we’re planning are the changes those people said they’d like to see us bring in.’