Jonathan Newell spoke to Alasdair Coates, the new CEO of the Engineering Council about the role of the organisation and the effects of the Uff Report.
By their nature, engineers are not averse to change. The old adage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is anathema to those pursuing a goal to take something that may already be perfectly suitable and make it even better. This is the nature of progress and UK engineers are some of the finest innovators in the world so the need for change highlighted in the recent report penned by Prof John Uff on UK professional engineering is seen by many as just another professional challenge that will be overcome and ultimately result in improvements.
Alasdair Coates, who has recently taken the helm at the Engineering Council, has the ambition to work collaboratively and steer the profession on the right course for taking it into a challenging and exciting future.
I spoke to him about his role, the way the Engineering Council works and the role of the professional engineering institutions (PEI) in shaping the engineering profession.
What struck me from the outset of the discussion was how positive Coates is about engineering. “I’m absolutely passionate about the profession. As a young man, I was very proud of achieving my chartered status and still to this day display my certificate,” he told me. As a professional engineer himself and having worked in a number of industries both as an employee and an employer, his experience certainly makes him well placed to understand the needs of engineers, the profession and the industry.
Swelling the numbers
According to Coates, the prime role of the Engineering Council is to serve society by regulating the profession. It ensures that registered engineers and technicians meet internationally recognised standards of competence and keep their skills current, while following ethical and sustainable practices. The Engineering Council maintains a register of different titles, which currently stands at just over 220,000 engineers and technicians.
This number doesn’t represent anywhere near the number of engineers in the country that may be eligible for registration, a fact highlighted in the Uff Report. Coates explained that the PEIs are doing a lot of work on promoting registration and there are working groups that have been set up to address the so-called “missing 3 million”.
“The key to the success of this is collaborative work between key stakeholders, including the PEIs and the Engineering Council, who all have a part to play in the future direction” Coates explained. He went on to say that this work represents a big opportunity for the PEIs and individual engineers.
Currently, there are 35 PEIs licensed by the Engineering Council to assess their members for registration, consisting of the dominant big three in terms of registrant numbers (IMechE, IET and ICE) and many smaller institutions of various sizes. I asked what the fate of these smaller bodies would be in a post-Uff report regime.
“Small institutions certainly have a role to play in the future profession and it’s their role to establish their position within the overall structure,” he told me.
Uff’s output shouldn’t be seen as being similar to the Beeching Report, catalysing a swathe of destructive changes throughout the industry, but rather as a source of impetus for enhancing the future development of the country’s engineering talent.
Coates sees only benefits emerging from the Uff report. “It’s up to us all to work together to use the report as a vehicle for positive change,” he concluded.