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ICE starts to tackle thorny issue of technicians

ICE news

The ICE wants to attract more technicians but they still do not have full voting rights. Are they valued or not?

FEWER AND fewer technicians are joining professional institutions, according to the Engineering Council.

The ICE admitted earlier this month that it had lost sight of the role of technicians after it emerged that only eight joined the Institution last year.

This compares with 455 engineers who became chartered members over the same period (NCE last week).

Engineering Council executive director Andrew Ramsay warned the ICE earlier this month that numbers could diminish further if the government achieved targets for 50% of school leavers entering higher education.

He believes that the move would lead to fewer people entering the job market through practical learning and that this could be detrimental to the future engineering knowledge base.

He added that the ICE had become preoccupied with promoting CEng as the gold standard - the qualification engineers should aspire to - leading to a decline in technicians registering with the institution.

'Industry relies on technicians - not the designers or initiators - but the ones who make things happen, ' said Ramsay, who is adamant that the current trends should be reversed.

'But we're starting from such a low base that we don't yet know where the market is even to bring the interested parties together.'

The ICE had a designated board looking after the interests of incorporated engineers and technicians but it was disbanded in 2001 after achieving its main aim of obtaining full membership status for incorporated engineers. The board was wound up before technicians achieved similar rights.

The ICE says that there are no plans to reinstate the board.

Technician members are a relatively new addition to the186-year-old ICE. Members of the Society of Engineering Technicians became part of the ICE in 1989. They were followed by those belonging to the Institution of Highways & Works Management (IHWM), which became part of the Institution in 1994.

'There's lots of talk, but not much has happened, ' said Janet Knight, the only technician member on ICE council and an original member of IHWM.

'It makes me so angry - we just don't sell it enough. People still think that the only way into the ICE is through university, but it's open to everyone, ' she said.

Most technicians contacted by NCE said they do not understand what they could gain from joining professional institutions.

The problem is compounded by the fact that technician members still do not have full voting rights and have no say on changes to ICE bylaws 'It's something we're looking into. But changing the terms of corporate membership is a lengthy process and requires a change in the Royal Charter, ' said ICE president Douglas Oakervee.

The ICE's first move is to use regional support teams to make links with local industry and promote the idea of technical membership.

But this is not expected to happen until the end of this year Oakervee is also using his engineering forum - a collection of 13 major UK consultants and contractors - to spread the word that recruiting and nurturing more technicians could be a solution to the skills shortage problem.

The ICE believes that for every chartered member there should be at least one technician member. This would mean that there should be more than 40,000 technician members instead of just 600.

Those technicians who are aware of the ICE are said to be put off by the lack of commitment shown towards them by the Institution. One complaint is that membership details for technicians are too vague. Definition The ICE defines a technician member as someone working under the guidance of an associate member (AMICE) or member (MICE) carrying out 'many of the skilled tasks on which the delivery of a project or service depends, and which in the absence of further training many AMICE and MICE would not be competent to do.' They also 'contribute to design, development, manufacture, commissioning, operation and maintenance of products, equipment, processes and services' and make a 'significant contribution to the civil engineering team'.

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