I cannot imagine that Brunel would have gained one vote more in the recent BBC poll if the public had learnt that he was obliged to take a competence test every five years. Yet the profession has become a more wide ranging and complex activity since IKB's day.
As a civil engineer, one encounters diverse problems only solved through a working understanding of the fundamentals. We rely on the mathematical models and methods to replicate and analyse the complex interfaces one encounters. I am sure that many of my former colleagues at Imperial (59-62) would now have great difficulty with an A level maths paper.
However they would know where to go for reference and would understand the basic assumptions. Sadly, it is evident that many engineers today do not. Of course engineers should have a high level of mathematical competence. But there is the problem.
I have worked with a range of talented individuals such as kerb layers, tunnellers, plasterers. They are not engineers, they are tradesmen or craftsmen and deserve respect for their skills. But it is essential that society recognises the difference.
Such recognition would help to maintain professional competence and its respect in a balanced society, far more than any five year general knowledge test.
Frank R. Neal (F), Wootton, Oxon (frank@fneal. freeserve.co.uk)