Thomas K. Grose’s article “Too
Little Respect,” which appeared in your January issue,
painted a highly misleading picture of the U.K. engineering profession.
It amounted to little more than a pastiche of unsupported anecdote,
buried within which were a few genuine facts that your reporter
chose to downplay.
U.K. engineers are highly respected by the U.K. public, the vital nature of their work being widely recognised—including by the younger generation. Recruitment to four-year M.Eng. programs has expanded within a total intake that is largely unchanged since the mid 90s. The U.K. suffers from the western world’s problem of attracting good teachers of maths and science, which limits the numbers that can graduate from our high schools into the demanding undergraduate programs at our highly regarded engineering schools. (It is worth noting that we still attract large numbers of students from all over the world to our admittedly expensive courses.)
The Engineering Council’s standard for registered engineers, UK-SPEC, requires evidence of competence in five broad areas, three of which require management skills. While there are, indeed, a variety of ways to satisfy the requirements, it is grossly unfair to suggest that management skills play little part in the competence of U.K. engineers.
U.K. engineers are well paid, which is why so few of them stay on at university to take doctorates (the U.S. has the same problem). The average earnings of Chartered Engineers compare particularly favourably with other professions and are higher than those of both architects and chartered accountants. Also, the starting salaries of graduates in engineering firms have been rising at a faster rate than in most other types of organization.
And as for the suggestion that the role of British engineers is “circumscribed”—this is a country whose Rolls-Royce jet engines power many of the world’s airliners, whose Symbian software runs in cellphones, whose bridges and tunnels remain solid and intact. Oh yes – and the $10.3 billion Channel Tunnel rail link was completed on time, as was London’s Emirates Stadium (Wembley was in fact run by an Australian consortium). Heathrow’s Terminal 5—one of Europe’s largest construction projects—is also on track to open dead on schedule.
So loosen up. Yes, we’d like more engineers, but the ones we’ve got are respected, business-aware, and world-leading designers.
Chief Executive Officer
Engineering Council U.K.
Thomas K. Grose responds:
Andrew Ramsay seems to have read my story as some sort of attack on the skills and education of British engineering graduates, but clearly it wasn’t. The story merely, and accurately, noted that there is a debate being waged within the U.K. over how much business education engineering students should receive. Dan Mutadich and his Sainsbury Management Fellows’ Society, as well as some engineering academics, obviously believe that students should be required to take more business/management courses. They feel that a lack of management training could be keeping engineers from gaining top executive positions in industry. My story accurately represented that opinion.
But it also duly and accurately noted that the opinion is not one that’s universally held—hence, there’s a debate—and quoted several people who disagree with it (including Ed Hallett, spokesman for Ramsay’s Engineering Council).
Ramsay says engineers enjoy great respect from the U.K. public. That may be true, but he offers no evidence—just his opinion. In working on this story and others, I’ve heard many engineers and engineering academics here voice a differing view: that the British public doesn’t fully understand and appreciate engineering’s contributions to society. I’ve heard them point out in alarm that too many Britons confuse engineers with plumbers, electricians, handymen, and, of course, train drivers. That many in the profession, both here in the U.K. and in the U.S., think engineering needs to do a better job of marketing itself to raise its public profile is hardly a new state of affairs, nor is it a disparaging claim.
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