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Age hike price of wider membership

The problem of the high average age at which candidates achieve membership (NCE 22 April) is not a recent phenomenon. It was a major issue during Gwilym Roberts' Presidency in 1987, as a result of which he commissioned a task force to examine the facts and provide solutions.

The perceived problem was that the qualification rules were narrow, requiring candidates to have designed some reinforced concrete and spent at least a year on site. Economic difficulties were making it very hard for graduates to achieve the necessary experience. As a result, the then ET&M Committee produced the current scheme based on the ICE100 series of documents.

The process was revised and 'design and site' replaced by 'solving a problem and implementing the solution', thus giving much greater flexibility to the scheme. At the same time it created opportunities for wider access to membership for people working in transportation, geotechnics, hydrology etc. As a result the average age decreased slightly, but only marginally.

The New Routes to Membership arising from the Presidential Commission and SARTOR3 continues this flexible approach which the membership has demanded. The traditional route of Accredited Degree/Initial Professional Development/Chartered Professional Review contains nothing in the process which inhibits achieving Chartered status within three or four years following graduation. Indeed, there has not been a time requirement in the qualification process for many years.

Further provision has been made to facilitate wider membership, and it is inevitable that qualification by these alternative routes - for candidates with degrees not in engineering or from the Open University, non-accredited degrees, or no degrees at all - will take longer. If this is successful, then the average qualifying age will increase - a price we should be prepared to pay if we wish to see wider membership opportunities.

Finally, the Engineering Council has analysed over the last three years the ages of registration of Chartered engineers, which shows a similar pattern to the ICE experience, but with a slightly older average qualifying age. This covers some 6,000 registrants each year with most coming from Institutions which have not made significant changes in their processes. Thus we are talking about a general engineering problem, not one confined to ICE.

We wish the task force well in its endeavours, but suggest it will need to look much wider than the process followed by the majority of graduates which really does not contain any inhibiting factors to delay qualification. Clearly there are social, employment, opportunity, reward and promotion elements that are having a significant influence.

David Rogers (F), 8 Blackthorne Close, Solihull, West Midlands B91 1PF and Robin Wilson (F), The Grove House, Little Bognor, Pulborough, West Sussex

Forgotten heroes

In your report 'Fast track to Chartered Membership' the paper referred to - no authors were credited - expressed fears that 'people were beginning to conclude that career prospects were possible without becoming Chartered' and even worse 'if not Chartered we spread a message that one can do seriously responsible work without being Chartered'.

What does the author think Incorporated engineers do all day? Has he any idea how many Incorporated engineers are employed in senior positions 'doing seriously responsible work' despite the attitudes of similarly minded people?

This type of thinking goes a long way to confirm the view that the Ivory Tower of 1 Great George Street is set back from the real world and more interested in the potential £150,000 increase in subscriptions.

Alex Bywaters (M), senior engineer, Kirklees Metropolitan Council, Huddersfield, HD1 6LG

Flight of fancy

I read Damian Arnold's article (NCE last week) with relish yet found his results clashed wildly with the much publicised SARTOR objectives. If the plans to fasttrack promising graduates go ahead, then what is the criteria to distinguish between those who are good and those who are average?

In line with raising the status of civil engineers, the ICE is attempting to restrict the number of those Chartered through more stringent entry levels and this will mean that young engineers will take longer to acquire the necessary experience and skills. To then lower the average age of the Chartered engineer expects a lot from the young engineer.

To summarise, to become a Chartered engineer through the ICE, the young engineer must graduate with good A-levels, pass a degree course, find a job with a training scheme, and in three years acquire skills in technical, financial, contractual and managerial roles. He also needs to be in a position of responsibility by the age of 25.

Now who's dreaming?

David Yau (G), Flat 7, 18-22 Staplehurst Road, Hither Green, London SE13 5NB

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