Engineering diplomat

Dr Alan Rudge is working towards a new engineering democracy, which he outlines to Adele Kimber

Dr Alan Rudge is a calm thoughtful man whose view of critics of the Engineering Council is that they do not understand fully what is going on. Most people, he says, are more supportive when he has explained his strategy and the work done so far.

As the first chairman of the reconstituted council, Rudge sets great store by the council’s mission statement – to enhance the standing and contribution of the engineering profession in the national interest and to the benefit of society – as a focus for its activities.

Launched one year ago with much hope of re-unifying the profession, to the casual observer the council has had a quiet year. But behind the scenes, Rudge and his fellow members of the new senate have been trying to put right many of the unwieldy and divisive arrangements they inherited from the original Engineering Council.

`In 12 months we have had to start from scratch to put together a senate, establish a strategy, get the boards up and running, launch committees and task forces. Our task is to help focus the work of the institutions and bring them together, rather than do it for ourselves,’ he says.

Rudge is keen to stress that decision-making is democratic, going through working parties and involving all the institutions. He wants to avoid any idea of an autocratic organisation.

`We have to do all this in a democratic environment. The senate wants to feel that it has a say in it all and that it is not a bystander watching the chairman and the executive just get on with it.’

Rudge has a wealth of management experience to prepare him for the diplomacy needed to get the new council off the ground. His roles as a past president of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, current chairman of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, plus his day job as deputy chairman of British Telecom, give him plenty of skills to call on.

`I have been realistic about our progress because I understand voluntary organisations – you have to have a balance between pushing people and trying to involve them. There is a massive communications issue,’ he says.

He claims he is personally neither disappointed nor frustrated with the speed of progress in the first year.

`I did not think that it was going to be easy but we have covered a lot of ground. When you have a lot of intelligent and strong-willed people involved, you can only get them going in a general direction, you cannot tell them to all march in step on day one.

`People must give us a chance. In just 12 months we have been trying to unload some of the legacies of the past and get a piece of machinery here which is effective for the engineering profession,’ he says.

A new dialogue with Government is encouraging Rudge to believe the Engineering Council is gaining a significant voice.

`We are increasingly being invited to give the views of the profession,’ he says. The council is about to sign a memorandum of understanding which states what Government and the council expect of each other.

Rudge knows that the building of a regional grass roots organisation by the council in parallel with the institutions was the cause of much friction in the past. He is keen to put that right.

`We have made it clear that our objective is not to compete – in the first year we have worked hard to develop that culture.’ Now the council is to withdraw from the regions, setting up a network of regional Professional Engineering Institutions that will pull together the active institutions in that area.

Rudge says one of the key drivers behind the regional rethink was financial. `The Engineering Council has fairly slender resources and if it is going to make any impact it has to focus on the right things, not spread them, as it was, very thinly.’ Now the focus will be on high profile events that keep on pumping home the message that engineering is an exciting profession.

The council’s relationship with industry is another major issue. `We have to ask what are we doing for industry? How can we restructure our affiliate scheme to provide some of its needs? Work is in hand and we will go back to industry with a new offer.’

One idea being mooted is a forum run by the Engineering Council which could act as a national voice for engineering.

A major challenge for Rudge’s diplomacy this year will be winning agreement for a new system of qualifications for professional engineers.

So far the Sartor proposals – the framework for revisions to standards and routes to registration – which include the requirement of a masters’ degree rather than BSc or BEng as the basic qualification for chartered status, have come in for some heavy criticism and a rewrite is going on.

`The rewrite of the presentation is substantial. We have not changed the principle yet of a three-tier structure but everyone has to be got on board,’ he says.

The new system would mean a smaller number of chartered engineers and more incorporated engineers – who would become the bulk of the engineering community – and engineering technicians.

`No-one is arguing about the need to push up and maintain standards. There is an expansion of education in the UK and it is very hard to maintain standards unless the profession itself maintains the standard of entry.

`The Dearing inquiry into higher education, due to report this year, could hold up a decision on the final details. We do not want to come out with something just before the Dearing report in case the rules change.’

The timetable for Sartor means a final meeting of the senate by the middle of the year to approve the proposals, but Rudge says he is prepared to delay to get the major institutions on board.

`We want a consensus but you never get 100%. We need a hard core of support from the profession, industry and Government. Undoubtedly we need the support of the bigger institutions to go ahead.’

In the end it is down to Rudge to get everyone on the same side.