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Open university

Working lives Getting chartered

Encouraging engineers without degrees to become chartered is a personal mission for Cornwall County Council maintenance manager Teresa Frost, who is herself a graduate of the University of Life.

After flash floods churned up the north Cornish village of Boscastle last month, it fell to the county council's maintenance division Cormac to clean up much of the mess. At the sharp end, area manager Teresa Frost has been co-ordinating labour and plant in the intensive operation to restore some semblance of normality and help people to start rebuilding their lives.

'I love Cornwall and I love engineering, ' says Frost between joking with the contractors shovelling and pumping mud and debris from Boscastle's streets and houses. Frost talks constantly and admits that she has an attention span of only 15 minutes.

Which is perhaps why sitting in a university lecture theatre for hours on end taking notes on Mohr's Circle equations was never her idea of engineering. Working in the field and learning by doing is how Frost prefers to operate.

But becoming chartered without a degree was a long and frustrating process for Frost. As a member of ICE Council she is now campaigning hard to help other engineers who are pursuing a non-graduate route to professional recognition avoid suffering from the same frustrations.

Frost's career began in South West Water's drawing office, but she soon wanted more design responsibility. Armed with an ordinary national certificate (ONC) in civil engineering and a few more years experience, Frost joined Cornwall County Council as a trainee technician, quickly moving to the roads division.

Here, she says, an ICE training scheme helped her focus on a career in civil engineering. But her first attempt to become an incorporated engineer (the professional qualification offered by the ICE for engineers without degrees) nine years ago was unsuccessful.

Frost claims the decision to refuse her IEng status was unfair.

'I'd designed, managed and supervised the construction of many road schemes up to £1.25M.

But someone decided that that just wasn't enough, ' she recalls.

The problem, she felt, was demonstrating that her experience in the field was equivalent to the learning base of a university degree.

Without a yardstick to measure her competence Frost tried a different tactic when she re-sat the review the following year.

'Instead of wearing a trouser suit and a waistcoat with pandas on, I wore a more sensible navy blue skirt suit and court shoes the second time. I took in the same papers as before and passed.'

However, she is confident that the Institution has changed since then.

'Civil engineering is different today compared with 20 years ago.

Back then the ICE was a bunch of dinosaurs and if it had stayed that way it would have died off, ' she says.

Frost is using her position on ICE Council to influence the way the Institution perceives incorporated and technician engineers. Two years ago she also became fully chartered, upgraded from associated member to member.

'And I will do everything I can to help other engineers make the same move.'

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