A confederation of engineering institutions could increase respect for the profession and help influence world events.
Engineers often ponder the indifference accorded them by society so it would be worth considering the respect they might gain if the engineering institutions were to be organised along the lines of the CBI.
Such an entity would deliver an agenda for mitigating climate change and relieving third world poverty to governments grateful for the contribution.
You might imagine this has nothing to do with your day job, but, in truth, you’re already helping answer those big questions, albeit in a fragmented way across a spectrum that’s invisible outside the wavelength of your individual specialism.
Our fragmentation not only results in indifference but weakens the profession, demeaning the value society places on our expertise and undermining our ability to inspire the next generation. The cost to society and UK plc is enormous.
What are the solutions? If, as institutions, we are failing to serve society, our Royal Charters and charitable status should be challenged. More positively however, we have to imagine that we can improve.
This concept was behind recent proposals to merge the Institution of Mechanical Engineers with the ICE. It went to the vote after years of behindthe-scenes detailed discussion and while the mechanicals approved the merger, the civils turned it down.
This has to be a tragedy. But what lessons can we learn?
One can feel for the mechanicals, having made the argument for and accepted the risks of merger. But perhaps for the civils the word ‘merger’ is too much. In today’s society cohabitation is often a prelude to marriage, But even so, many couples still maintain separate bank accounts.
Perhaps we should think along similar lines and, as the structurals celebrate their hundredth birthday, propose a form of co-habitation where they join us in Great George Street, rather than renewing the lease on Belgrave Square. We could share the library and occasionally, headed notepaper in the form of the ‘Institutions of Civil and Structural Engineers’, while maintaining the structurals’ tradition and specialist examination.
What if this was to become the Institutions of Civil, Mechanical and Structural Engineers? Would this be so very different to how the engineering profession operates in Ireland, Australia or Hong Kong?
All businesses have to evolve to meet the challenges society and our clients place on us, and today the vast majority are multi-disciplinary, selling a service outside the convention of 25 let alone 100 years ago.
Somehow we have to find a forum for joined-up thinking. It is no longer appropriate to abdicate responsibility through disengagement.
Businesses need to lead the debate, reinvigorate the concept of a learned society in a knowledge-based economy and nominate their best to the councils of the institutions.
They need to stand for change and we need to vote for them.
Mark Whitby is design director of Whitbybird and a former ICE president