When the top job at a professional institution becomes vacant, the reflex these days should not be to ask who will fill it, but why anyone at all should be selected to fill it.
There are too many such institutions. As well being uneconomic for members, who have to pay for expensive buildings, often in pleasant but high value locations, and each employing a large staff, it makes the industry as a whole less effective at lobbying.
The Engineering Council, which provides a link for the 37 institutions, has to play choirmaster for too many disparate, and at times discordant voices. What’s more, many of the institutions are losing relevance. Some were formed at the turn of the century, when the divisions between engineering disciplines were more clear cut. Today’s engineers often have expertise in more than one area: the concept of a systems engineer is a case in point, bringing together electronics, electrical and mechanical skills.
These days, what is good for electrical engineers is also good for mechanical engineers. And the professional demands made on all, say, chartered engineers, should be more or less the same across every discipline.
At the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the director general’s job will be vacant at the end of May, leading some to think that this would be a good time to reconsider a merger with the Institution of Electrical Engineers. Such a move would create a 120,000-strong body of engineering professionals working at the heart of British industry, with a formidable voice.
Any such move would depend on a groundswell of support among voting members across the UK, who would need some persuading. It cannot be done with a swiftly-brokered deal in a mahogany-panelled boardroom somewhere in central London.
So it won’t happen this time. But the IMechE’s new chief needs to be able to get merger back on the agenda; sensitively, but resolutely.