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Whitby stands up as torch bearer

MARK WHITBY took on the mantel of President at the Institution of Civil Engineers this week and sig - nalled in his presidential address on Tuesday his intention to cause a stir over the course of the next 12 months.

Passing the torch along the line through the generations is all well and good, but Whitby believes that 'there comes a point when torches are to be used and fires to be lit'.

Architects are grabbing the headlines, and the engineering voice is rarely heard. 'The global warming, energy and transport debates are raging but we, as an institution, are speaking so softly as to be all but inaudible, ' said Whitby as he urged engineers to force themselves on the public attention.

The new president began his address by calling into question the relevance of Council to practising engineers and the issues in which it embroils itself. He argued that a reconstituted Council could play a greater role in directing efforts towards relevant debates such as sustainability and road safety. And by developing priorities and policy, a clear message could be sent to both the government and the engineering industry. He added: 'If we fail to be curious and excite debate we lose our relevance and people disen - gage.'

Whitby believes that if the Insti - tution is to re-engage the regions then the nature of the relationship needs to change, with the regions needing to be seen as an effective vehicle for creating vision. He quoted Pope Pius XI who wrote in 1936 at the time of Mussolini: 'It is an injustice, a grave evil and a dis - turbance of right order for a larger, a higher organisation to arrogate to itself functions which can be per - formed efficiently by smaller and lower bodies.'

Whitby then turned his attention to training.

He feels that too much learning among engineers is centred around CPD, which is largely regulatory and stifles natural curiosity. By engaging members in debate Whitby feels that then they will seek further knowledge around subjects not to do with their everyday concerns.

Whitby is passionate about dis - solving boundaries between the institutions, and reminded his audi - ence that 'this institution began with a remit that included all of engi - neering'.

In what was a recurring theme in his message he urged the institution to help engineers 'to see beyond the walls of their respective silos.

'If we are involved in multi-disci - plinary debates, we can contribute to a wider vision of the role engi - neering can play in society, ' he said.

Whitby highlighted the need to 'remove the glass walls' that exist between different institutions. His ambition is to see membership of the engineering professions become more homogeneous with inter-disciplinary activities between institutions.

He stressed that the problems facing the world are multidisciplinary, needing a multidisciplinary approach to solve them.

'It is only when we are able to attract the professional bodies of related disciplines - other stake - holders - to the development of a common and coherent position, that we begin to be seen as really persuasive, ' he said.

Over the past year Whitby has been chair of the Urban Design Alliance (UDAL), which is made up of the ICE, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Landscape Institute, Civic Trust and Urban Design Group. Whitby said this can provide a model that can be readily applied to other complex areas such as energy/sustainability.

'It is a prime example of an area where the sum of the expertise applied is greater than the parts, ' he explained.

He said it is time to become publicly critical of the government and Engineering Council for their 'failure to deliver an appropriate science curriculum at primary and secondary school'.

Whitby is passionate about education and drawing people into engi - neering. He repeatedly stated that 'if each of us could just pull one youngster into the industry then surely we will move in the right direction'. At his company Whitby Bird & Partners there is a real commitment to involving local schools with the engineering club.

The arrival of the CAD equipped design and technology curriculum has seen schools take on technol - ogy in advance of what most of the industry uses today.

Whitby was enthusiastic about the possibilities these new tech - nologies offer and said of his own firm: 'Harnessing the skills of the emerging computer literate generation of engineers has been the foun - dation of our success. We need to prepare for the next generation.'

If Whitby's dreams are realised and Great George Street is decentralised with key responsibilities returned to the regions, future presidents would be more focussed outside the institution than within it, Whitby said.

Commenting on his new role, he said the demands placed on the President repel precisely the type of people who would be ideal for the job. Whitby insists the role should be 'ambassadorial and evangelical'.

This premise stretches beyond the confines of his new office and down the corridors to the Council, which he argued should attract the leading lights in engineering and not just those who are willing and able.

He spoke of breaking away from the engineer's conservative nature and described his vision of the institution as 'a place where we can speak up for society and our profes - sion in society, even if those views may be in conflict with many of the companies that employ us'.

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