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Fellowship of the ring

Working lives Professional status

The North American Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer is a pledge symbolised by the wearing of an iron ring. Would its adoption in the UK help build our self-esteem?

First-time visitors to North America from the UK are often amazed by the friendliness of people they meet on their travels. A straightforward request for directions can result in recommendations of what to see, or where to eat and shop.

Your fellow traveller on an internal flight will almost certainly ask you what brings you to the country and what you think of it.

But next time you meet a friendly American or Canadian citizen, look carefully at his or her hands. You may have more in common than you think. If he or she is wearing a plain iron ring on the little finger, then you've encountered a fellow engineer.

The Iron Ring Ceremony originated in Canada in the early 1920s. Its instigator was Edward Terrick Haultain, a professor of mining engineering at the University of Toronto.

Haultain's motive is familiar today. He wanted to improve the image of the engineering profession and felt this might be helped by a formal declaration of adherence to a code of ethics - similar to young doctors taking the Hippocratic Oath.

The first ceremony was held at the University of Toronto in 1925 using a form of words drafted by Rudyard Kipling.

The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer is open to all engineering disciplines and the participants take upon themselves an obligation to the public good and the duty to work always to the best of their ability.

The ceremony concludes with the presentation of an iron ring which is worn on the little finger of the working hand.

The ritual caught the imagination of the profession and spread right across Canada where it is centred in university-based camps. There is no question that today it still represents an important moment for engineering graduates.

By the middle of the 1960s the ceremony had spread across the border into the United States.

The American ritual differed from that of the Canadians but was modelled on it. Tens of thousands of US engineers have now recited the obligation, though only a small percentage actually wears the iron ring.

Many engineers do, however, among them ICE past president Adrian Long. And there is now a move to introduce a similar affirmation for UK engineers.

ICE Council member and one time assistant city engineer in London Alan Carroll, and former Balfour Beatty Power Construction director John Richardson - a Fellow of ICE, Institution of Mechanical Engineers and Institution of Electrical Engineers, are the moving spirits behind this initiative, backed by a number of senior members of the profession.

Informal soundings have shown that there is considerable enthusiasm for the idea, and academics from the engineering department of City University have shown willingness to be involved.

However, neither Carroll nor Richardson wishes to proceed without general support from the profession, so if you have views or would simply like to know more, contact Alan Carroll at tel: (020) 7404 8728 or John Richardson at jande. richardson @virgin. net tel: (01883) 343756.

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