The engineering profession looks set to get a new identity following a meeting last week at the Department of Trade and Industry between a group of senior figures in the profession and industrialists.
The result was an agreement that could open the doors of the profession to people in technology careers who do not think of themselves as engineers.
The group, led by Engineering Council chairman Robert Hawley, reported to industry minister Lord Sainsbury with a firm commitment to shift the emphasis and outlook of a group of institutions and organisations that risked becoming irrelevant.
There are as yet no firm proposals. However, there has been talk of making the membership process simpler and faster, with the possibility of a `quickie’ CEng registration for someone with the right qualifications and experience who needs the registration at short notice to prove to, say, an overseas client that his or her qualification is valid.
The whole issue of education and degrees will come up again for further review, but this time with even more input from the major engineering employers.
And the scope of membership could broaden to other technology disciplines, such as the IT industry, which is still in need of a set of quality standards for its practitioners.
Seasoned engineers may roll their eyes at what seems to be another turn in the constant navel-gazing of the profession. But this time it is different. Possible changes have been raked over with the biggest engineering employers. More than ever before, the profession is trying to deliver what employers want.
There appears to have been a culture shift, forced on the profession by the growing numbers of people working in technology careers who have nothing to do with the professional institutions or the Engineering Council (which represents the 300,000 institution members in promoting the profession as a whole and also sets the academic standards required for `registration’ as, for example, a chartered engineer).
There are hundreds of thousands of such people in technology jobs who are not registered as engineers. Some are IT professionals, while a growing number run high-tech start-ups.
Benefits of membership
The theory goes that all could benefit – as would their employers – from the standard-setting and quality assurance that could be gained from membership of a high profile and well respected professional grouping.
Despite this, few are keen to join the engineering institutions as they stand. In fact, many people in technology jobs do not see much point in going out of their way to brand themselves as engineers. For them, the world of the engineering institutions, with their wood-panelled chambers and glittering chandeliers, seems rooted in another century.
`If the Engineering Council does not adapt or adjust, the world will still carry on without it. It will become sidelined and irrelevant,’ one senior source within the Council warned.
The target market for engineering bodies is changing, with a shift away from the old disciplines defined by the existing professional institutions. The companies people work for are getting smaller, their customers are becoming more global, tenure in jobs is getting briefer, and the focus is on knowledge-based activities, rather than manufacturing on a vast scale.
In effect, the useful bits of the traditional structures in the engineering professional organisations are the quality assurance it offers, and the potential to expose cowboy operators.
The trick will be to keep those structures in place, but at the same time ditch many others that get in the way, and which put off the greater population of people in other technology-based careers.
Engineering Council: new game, new name?
If the game-plan is to widen the appeal of the profession to other technology careers, maybe now is the time for a new name for the Engineering Council. Here are some alternatives, with possible acronyms.
* Professional Technology Council (ProTech for short)
* The British Technology Professions (BTP)
* British Engineering and Technology Association (Beta)
Got any more names? E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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