I know this is not a new issue to raise but it is enduring. Years go by and nothing much changes. One of the reasons that “engineering” is poorly represented in the UK is that its voice is fragmented.
I could do a simple vox pop. Knock on a random door and ask – who speaks for engineers in the UK. The likelihood is that few would give an answer, let alone name an organisation. If I asked who speaks for doctors, those in the know would say the BMA. If I asked who speaks for lawyers, most would answer the law society. I dare not ask who represents accountants.
Professional engineering institution have an important role. That’s nice and easy to say, in-fact all the ones that are extant do say so. Supporting professional development is key to increasing access to engineering jobs. It’s spokespersons, specialist groups and networking opportunities can provide visibility of the opportunities in the profession.
So, why are there so many different voices? There’s a great deal of legacy. An inheritance from bygone eras. I see lots of overlap in the aviation and aerospace industries. There’re invitations in my in-box to events driven by IET, IMECHE, Royal Aero Society and various manufacturing, software, safety, and reliability organisations.
The variety of activities may serve specialist niches, but the overall effect is to dilute the impact the engineering community has on our society. Ever present change means that new specialist activities are arising all the time. It’s better to adapt and include these within existing technical institutions rather than invent new ones.
What’s the solution? There have been amalgamations in the past. Certainly, where there are significant overlaps between organisations then amalgamation maybe the best way forward.
There’s the case for sharing facilities. Having separate multiple technical libraries seems strange in the age of the connected device. Even sharing buildings needs to be explored.
Joint activities do happen but not to the extent that could fully exploit the opportunities that exits.
If the UK wishes to increase the number of competent engineers, it’s got to re-think the proliferation of different institutions, societies, associations, groupings, and licencing bodies.
To elevate the professional status of engineering in our society we need organisations that have the scale and range to communicate and represent at all levels. Having said the above, I’m not hopeful of change. Too many vested interests are wedded to the status-quo. We have both the benefits of our Victorian past and the milestone of that grand legacy.