Raising profiles: time for engineers to be given the recognition they deserve

With reference to ‘Steering clear of the political dog-fight’ (The Engineer, 11 January), the issue of how engineers are acknowledged in the UK appears to be related back to the Victorian era when it became a significant profession due to the industrial revolution.

It was claimed that the rise of engineering clashed with well-established professions, such as doctors and lawyers, where the aristocracy felt uncomfortable with engineers encroaching upon their domain in terms of professional and social recognition.

Consequently, as the term ‘engineer’ has multiple meanings, it became virtually impossible to stop the term being used by anybody who wished to do so; therefore, it became difficult for those who were engineers to be recognised as so.

Even though, in the UK, we have professional qualifications for engineers, this fails to remove the issue of anybody being able to call themselves an engineer.

Professionals that do have recognition benefit from members of the public consulting them face to face to seek their advice and services, against clearly specified consultation fees.

In contrast, the term engineer is often associated with someone called out to repair a photocopier or gas boiler, where they are often dressed in clothing that is functional rather than a suit. This gives the impression that engineers are basically repair staff who deal with breakdowns and emergencies, and not people who have been through higher education to degree level or higher, accredited training, in addition to work experience before being registered with the Engineering Council as an engineer.

To this extent, it may be too late to reverse the perception of what constitutes an engineer in the UK, but changes such as a move from the term ‘engineer’ to ‘technologist’, where only those registered with the Engineering Council can use the title, may help. However, without the face-to-face consultation associated with other professions it could be difficult to break the barrier.

Andrew Porter, EADS Astrium