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Engineering Council reveals ambitious masterplan

A HARD-HITTING report on the future role of the Engineering Council is set to have major repercussions throughout the engineering profession.

The Hawley Group report, the result of a 15 month investigation into the Council, makes 43 recommendations and was welcomed by science minister Lord Sainsbury. But it left ICE president Joe Dwyer surprised.

'I am in awe of the scale of the Council's ambitions, ' said Dwyer in a letter to the EngC responding to the report. 'But I fear that they are at variance with the views of the major engineering institutions, ' he added.

The report describes a series of radical ideas that will see the Council take on 'a wider and more relevant role' by becoming more of a voice within the profession. Among the recommendations are the introduction of a regulated programme of CPD and plans for the return of technical universities.

But the ICE has joined forces with the electrical, mechanical and chemical institutions - who together represent two thirds of all registered engineers - to express concerns about the proposals.

This shared concern is that in its current form, the Council lacks the resources and leadership to adopt the proposed wider role. Changes to make this happen, it is feared, are being driven through without the involvement of the institutions.

'The plans are wonderfully ambitious, ' said ICE chief executive Mike Casebourne. 'But they will only be achieved with good co-operation.'

The Hawley Group comprises representatives from the EngC, the Department of Trade & Industry, and the Department for Education & Employment.

Its investigations consisted mainly of surveys of the engineering community, both from traditional industries such as mechanical and manufacturing, and new, technology-based, industries.

'The messages are unequivocal, ' the report claims. 'The profession (defined as the Engineering Council and the 34 professional engineering institutions) no longer serves economic needs adequately. This is almost certainly the last chance to put things right.'

And while recognising attempts that institutions such as the ICE are making to modernise and improve, it claims that they remain too focused on traditional engineering skills. Unless the support and skills for a new knowledge-based economy are provided, they will rapidly become irrelevant, it claims.

'Too many voices are currently giving confused messages, ' the report states. 'Too little attention is being paid to the real needs of specific customer groups and audiences.'

It adds: 'An almost unanimous view from business and industry, from government and sister organisations, is that the current structure of the profession, with 34 institutions, is too fragmented.

This damages the profession itself as well as its effectiveness to the UK economy.'

One of Hawley's most significant recommendations is a complete restructuring of the EngC to enable it to develop and present coherent views on behalf of the profession. This would use clear 'generic messages' with individual institutions delivering the specifics.

EngC would also become the profession's prime link with government and a high-level public affairs group would be established to oversee this.

Other recommendations include a centralised 'Campaign to promote engineering' and the formation of 'clusters' to pool their public relations resources and knowledge based activities.

The Group also revealed some potentially controversial ideas for continuous professional development including the introduction of a comprehensive, modular CPD structure. It says that CPD is the only way that engineers can demonstrate they are keeping up with developments, but it must also encompass skills such as business management, marketing and communications.

This, the Group believes, would pave the way for a licence to practice - based on registration followed by externally assessed CPD - should public pressure for such licensing develop.

The report also calls for more investigation to be carried out into what type of university courses best deliver people with the skills that industry desires.

EngC would also be charged with boosting the link between business and the academic community and would eventually spearhead the return of technical universities, dedicated to providing engineering and technology graduates to business.

However, the Group recognises that the current EngC governance - a Senate of 54 elected members - lacks the expertise and fluidity to enact the proposed changes. Even the name is not considered good enough.

A final report is due by the end of the year and by then the Group hopes to have identified a new structure and, vitally, a new source of funding.

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