ASSOCIATE membership of the ICE is worth little in winning status or pay, delegates at the latest Graduates and Students National Committee meeting claimed.
AMICE has little leverage in the jobs market either as a tool for winning employment, professional status or a competitive salary, disgruntled Associate Members complained. They said competing qualifications from niche professional organisations such as the Institution of Structural Engineers or CIWEM, and from the pan-disciplinary Engineering Council count for more with employers.
'AMICE is not worth anything in terms of pay,' said East of Scotland graduate representative and AMICE Lindsay Murphy. 'It's the Engineering Council's I.Eng qualification that counts.'
GSNC chairman Greg Lutton confirmed: 'I.Eng and C.Eng are what employers are interested in. Employers, the public and engineers themselves are more familiar with the terms I.Eng and C.Eng than AMICE.'
Graduates have been forced to adopt AMICE status by stringent qualification for full membership, said Council member David Orr. He blamed the Engineering Council for setting high standards and placing full membership out of the reach of many graduates.
Disillusionment with Associate Membership 'could lead to the situation where we have just a small number of MICE and no AMICE, because nobody can be bothered', said Orr. An alternative, he proposed, would be lowering standards for membership. Standards have risen in the past 15 years, he added.
Vice president Mark Whitby claimed debate over the worth of AMICE status underscored a tendency within the ICE to focus on gaining chartership rather than providing young engineers with appropriate skills.
'We need to reduce the emphasis on becoming chartered and encourage people to get experience that is relevant to their ambitions,' said Whitby. 'A lot of people wonder what to do after becoming chartered; I want people to take responsibility for themselves.'
Whitby called on the ICE to 'reclaim territory that has been cornered by other more specialist organisations'. Membership of other bodies is used by employers to benchmark their staff, and the ICE has suffered by becoming too generalist, he claimed.
'There will never be standardisation across the industry. We need to get people to decide what they need at a particular time, and to benchmark their own development.'
To make progress towards membership easier GSNC delegates called for reform of the examination system. Many young engineers fail to gain membership on a single element of the qualification process but are forced to resubmit a full range of coursework and retake exams in subsequent bids. The financial and time costs deter significant numbers from pursuing full membership, and slow career progress for those who persevere.
A modular examination and qualification system is needed, suggested Lutton. 'People should be able to retake only those elements they fail rather than the whole lot. It would take less time, be less expense, and cause less hassle. Graduates need a 'zone' where they can be helped to membership rather than hindered,' he said.
Modular qualification would also help graduates match their education with professional development, Lutton observed.
Whitby said that in addition to providing modern routes to qualification the ICE should improve communications, publishing and conferences. He would like to see a reduction in the cost of membership, qualification and examination, so boosting the Institution as a route to practice.
The MICE/AMICE debate is symptomatic of anxiety about falling membership felt not just within the ICE but across professional institutions more widely, claimed Whitby. He has been talking to other engineering bodies includingthe Mechanicals, Electricals, Chemicals, and Structural Engineers, the Institute of Wastes Management, ASCE and CIWEM about opportunities for joint working to improve service to members.
'These organisations are not going away, and we should figure out a way of working together,' he added.