As a pan-industry campaign to dramatically boost the number of engineering technicians enters its second year, Mark Hansford explores the reasons behind the move and weighs up progress so far.
Late last year the Department for Business Innovation and Skills approved apprenticeships in a series civil engineering related disciplines for the first time.
The latest raft included a civil engineering site manager apprenticeship, developed by Balfour Beatty in partnership with the ICE, and it means that there is now pretty much an apprenticeship for anyone wishing to kick-start a career in civil engineering the vocational way.
And that’s important, because the ICE, in partnership with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Engineering & Technology, is pledging to boost the status of engineering technicians and to register 100,000 of them by 2020.
The three institutions are pushing the message through the EngTech Now campaign, a joint initiative being run in conjunction with the Engineering Council.
The campaign was first announced by prime minister David Cameron in 2013, and officially launched during National Apprenticeship Week in March last year.
That March launch resulted in employers such as Crossrail, BAE Systems, Bam Nuttall, Atkins and NG Bailey committing to raise the number of EngTechs in their own workforces.
The next step – and the challenge for 2015 – is to reach a significantly wider range of engineering companies and help them recognise that those who have come through vocational and apprenticeship routes can play a significant role in their businesses as professionally qualified engineers.
ICE director general Nick Baveystock has already written to civil engineering company CEOs asking for support for the campaign.
“In order for this programme to succeed and achieve its ambitious target, we need and seek, the support of the UK’s leading employers,” he said in the letter.
What is Engtech?
EngTech is a professional title awarded to engineering technicians.
In simple terms, the letters EngTech after someone’s name marks them out as a professionally registered engineering technician, who has demonstrated the knowledge, skills and commitment to join the national register of professional engineers and technicians.
Registered EngTech status is awarded by professional engineering institutions on behalf of the Engineering Council. The registration process may include an interview or an on-the-job discussion. Institutions can help with guidance or mentoring to help candidates through each step.
Holding registered status - which also includes Incorporated Engineer (IEng) and Chartered Engineer (CEng) - demonstrates that an individual has reached a professional standard which covers the entire engineering profession.
As the EngTech title is independently verified, it cuts through the confusion of differing qualifications.
This means it quickly and easily demonstrates that your employees are professionally skilled and competent, giving clients a simple boost of confidence when they are deciding who to pick for their next project.
Having registered EngTechs on a project team can also help employers to satisfy the requirements of independent quality awards and accreditations such as the Quality Management Systems standard ISO 9001:2008.
“We would be grateful were you able to support this initiative, the first time the three major professional engineering institutions have joined forces in such a meaningful way, by placing this qualification at the heart of your own programmes.”
Baveystock is emphatic about the need for more technicians in modern civil engineering practices. “Engineering technicians form a vital part of the skills mix, offering specialist skills and techniques and solving complex problems - ultimately they help to deliver infrastructure projects efficiently and on time,” he stresses.
“It is important that we boost the status of those who have come through the apprentice route and show youngsters and employers the different paths that can lead to a lifelong career in civil engineering - one that can quite literally shape the world in which we live.”
Bam Nuttall is totally convinced, with apprentices firmly part of the firm’s training and development programme.
“Engineering technicians form a vital part of the skills mix, offering specialist skills and techniques and solving complex problems”
Nick Baveystock, ICE
“As a business we have invested heavily in our apprenticeship programmes for over 10 years and these are now aligned with our professional development programme,” explains chief executive Steve Fox.
“We encourage Bam Nuttall apprentices to achieve EngTech as it demonstrates they have met an independent standard of competence.”
And that view is becoming quite prevalent. Transport for London and its suppliers have created over 5,000 apprenticeship roles since April 2009. Operator Heathrow Airport Ltd has - should it be allowed to expand - promised to double the number of apprenticeships to 10,000 by 2030.
In September, Atkins welcomed 72 apprentices into its business to work in a wide range of sectors. Resourcing director Chris Marsh explains: “Today’s apprentices are the future of our industry and the ones we will all rely on to deliver the significant design, engineering and project management challenges in the years ahead.
“For those joining Atkins, this represents the start of an exciting career which could lead them across different disciplines, sectors and geographies.”
And there are many more also on board. Indeed, the response has taken even the man in charge, EngTech Now chief executive Blane Judd, a little by surprise: “Our original programme was to sign up 10 companies a year for three years as champion employers. But we’ve already got 15.”
That list includes Amey, and key clients Thames Tideway Tunnel and High Speed 2 Ltd.
It is all very positive. Indeed the ICE is on track to deliver 80% of the civil engineering technician numbers in the first year. But those more experienced engineers out there may be forgiven for asking what is new – after all, apprenticeships in one form or another have been around for decades. So where has this new impetus come from?
Some trailblazing construction and engineering apprenticeships
- Piping designer and draughtsperson
- Structural designer and draughtsperson
- Non-destructive testing (NDT) engineering technician
- Nuclear worker
Rail engineering operative
- Rail engineering technician
Rail engineering advanced technician
- Energy manager
- Anaerobic digestion technician
- Transport planning technician
- Digital engineer
Largely, it is government-driven. Reforms put in place in the current Parliament are leading to the creation of a series of new trailblazer apprenticeships that for the apprentice culminate in a rigorous assessment that - if passed - gives him, or her, a professional qualification.
For civil engineering apprentices that currently means the title EngTech TMICE. But in April last year ICE Council agreed that qualified engineering technicians could use the post nominal letters EngTech MICE - putting them on an even membership keel with Incorporated and Chartered Civil Engineers. The change demands a change to the ICE’s Royal Charter - and that needs approval - but it is a significant statement of the value the ICE places on the rigour of the new apprenticeships.
Why exactly? Judd explains: “This is the engineering community putting together its own standards, regulated by the Engineering Council.” The standards produced by trailblazers will become the blueprint for apprenticeships in those occupations.
The criteria are still strict though. Trailblazer apprenticeships must be real jobs, based with employers. They must be substantial, lasting more than 12 months, and they will have to follow standards that have been created by groups of employers - and for engineering apprenticeships are accepted by the Engineering Council as sufficiently robust.
“You are seeing businesses adding EngTech’s as well as CEngs to tender documents; simply because clients are asking for this information”
Steven Reid, UK Power Networks
The Civil Engineering Site Manager apprenticeship is one such trailblazer. Others in the civil engineering and construction sector include railway engineering design, transport planning, piler
and digital engineer (see box) - proving that the full range is covered.
UK Power Networks was one of the first engineering firms to get involved, and has already welcomed its first 29 new recruits to the new power distribution craftspeople apprenticeship.
Says UK Power Networks trainee programmes manager Steven Read: “The trailblazer initiative has allowed employers like us to introduce a common industry standard in the skills we teach to the dedicated men and women who keep Britain’s electricity distribution networks running. It is refreshing, as an employer, to be involved in designing and a developing the benchmark against which all our apprentices are trained.”
Judd says the initiative is really gathering momentum, with clients in particular seeing the relevance of engaging suppliers who take on technicians. “You are seeing businesses adding EngTech’s as well as CEngs to tender documents; simply because clients are asking for this information in prequalification questionnaires and tender specifications. And this means you are seeing EngTech appear in vacancy notices, just as you would CEng in the past,” he explains.
“It is true to say that a graduate engineer aspires to be a CEng. The move now is to ensure an apprentice aspires to be an Engtech.”
- For more information on why EngTech matters for employers go to www.engtechnow.com/employers. For more information on how to become a technician member of ICE go to www.ice.org.uk/membership/membership-grades-and-how-to-join/tmice. For more information on the new Apprenticeship standard go to www.apprenticeships.gov.uk