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Engineering the future

The institutions are coming together to ensure engineering plays its part in economic recovery.

The recent Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills (IUSS) select committee report, Engineering: Turning Ideas into Reality, released in March, voiced what we in the engineering professions have known for quite some time – there is a worrying lack of engineering expertise in government and the civil service.

Advice from engineering experts is often sought much too late in the policy making process, if it is sought at all, and taking advice once policy has already been set in key areas such as transport, energy, water and waste, leads to missed opportunities and extra costs.

The committee is right to call for the appointment of a chief engineering advisor – something the ICE has been campaigning for, for many years – and it is right to say the government must consult the profession at the start of the policy making process, not the end.

With the government now looking to bring the UK out of recession, there is a great deal of political interest in retooling the economy into a science based, high value set of industries that address major global and social issues while creating wealth and jobs. It is clear that engineering will form an integral part of this strategy and so now more than ever the sector must coordinate to promote and influence relevant policy.

This is why various institutions have come together under the new banner – Engineering the Future – and will now work together to promote the invaluable contribution of engineering to re-establishing and maintaining the health of UK plc.

While there have been numerous instances of joint working in the past between the institutions and engineering bodies, it has tended to be rather sporadic and uncoordinated, focusing mainly on isolated projects. What this new approach will ensure is that we implement a coordinated long-term approach, providing regular expert advice across the entire engineering spectrum.

The work is set to fall into three parts: Policy project work in key areas, the development of an engineering plan or manifesto for the future economy, and associated public affairs, messaging and PR plan to promote it. Overall, the aim is to undertake high profile work that is timely, of national importance, and with a wide spectrum of opportunity for making impact with the public, government and other policy makers.

Within this new structure the ICE has an important role to play in assisting and guiding further work, particularly in our key area of infrastructure. We are bringing to the table a well established reputation and considerable expertise in policy and communications that will aid the overall goals of the engineering professions.

Where required, we will present a united front with all the organisations and we will continue to use our platform as the voice of infrastructure to take the lead on key infrastructure issues, just as we already do through the Construction Industry Council with regards to construction and the built environment.

The IUSS report highlighted that the recent economic crisis has presented the government with a once-in-generation opportunity to restructure the economy by building on the existing substantial strengths of UK engineers. All the organisations are now committed to working together to ensure we coordinate these strengths for maximum impact.

  • Tom Foulkes is ICE director general

Readers' comments (1)

  • Is there therefore a case to be made that we should have a common "Engineering Institution" as is the case in other countries (Canada, Australia, Ireland)? Such an Institution would surely have a much louder voice through its involvement in every city, town, industry, institute and workplace throughout the length and breadth of the nation. Sure, each institution preserves the uniqueness of each engineering discipline, and is vital to promote and protect each discrete function, but is it right for the Profession?

    To take a medical analogy, does not the General Medical Council, as a representative body of all registered medical parctitioners in the UK, carry much more kudos and clarity of purpose than, say, the British Association of Head and Neck Oncologists? Indeed it is the case that the latter is the undeniable and ultimate body responsible for this facet of medicine, but it is the former which regulates, controls and comments on the Profession as a whole.

    We need to seriously consider whether our role is to promote the profession of engineering in its multidisciplinary form, or to protect and preserve the integrity of our chosen branch of the profession. I believe it can be both, but would require big thinking from Great George Street and others to acknowledge that our profession is Engineering, specialising in Civil, with possible further sub-specialisms. In the current climate, where civil engineers are being shed like last Sunday's newspaper, would it not benefit the nation if those civil engineers were considered Engineers, and allow to re-specialise in a more appropriate discipline to meet future demand?

    Engineering is a dynamic profession. Aircraft are now more akin to electronic systems than mechanical systems. Did the mechanical engineers step aside to allow the electrical engineers to take over? No, they re-specialised and became what they needed to be.

    It's time to stand up for the fact that we're in a serious profession: Engineering, one that must be considered in the same vein as Medical and Legal. The only way we can do that is if, as an Engineering Professional Body, we forget about pointing out our relative differences, and concentrate on providing the public, government and policy-makers with a clear message as to what the Engineering Profession is all about. Only then might we see the status of the Chartered Engineer raised to its rightful level.

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