SOE News

SOE responds to report on UK engineering

8th May 2017

Review of UK engineering, led by Prof John Uff, was commissioned by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

At the Society of Operations Engineers (SOE) we are open to targeted, collaborative measures in engaging the many challenges currently facing the engineering community. There are several areas of common ground identified in the report which could be refined through collective effort. SOE would, for example, welcome collaboration with the Royal Academy, Engineering UK and STEM learning for the purposes of promoting education of STEM subjects. However, SOE are not supportive of any opportunistic attempts by larger PEIs to seize control of smaller, specialist organisations. We are confident we can contribute to the creation of an attractive and prosperous engineering model without the need to combine services that are not readily compatible.

A top-down organisational structure could create a situation where important voices are lost, which would result in member services being diminished. Our priority would be for our members to contribute and collaborate, remaining in a flexible and open environment, and able to promote best practice in their respective sectors.

SOE was established through the merging of three professional sectors; road transport, plant engineering and engineer surveyors, so we are aware of the requirements of consolidation and the conditions in which they can thrive. The merger enabled SOE to draw on a wider pool of trustees and was effective because the combined sectors had a similar culture and ethos. It could appear from the outside that some of the smaller PEIs have a similar purpose and ambition, yet in most cases they are very different in their areas of expertise and how they operate. If there was one homogenised group, it would not be in the best interests of engineers seeking guidance in the UK.

In effect, with UK productivity shown to lag behind many European countries in the wake of Brexit negotiations, the commissioning of the report and subsequent recommendations could well be described as a land-grab.

Whilst SOE recognise that there is work to be done in getting the maximum value from all PEIs, we believe that the proposed structural changes - whilst being advantageous for some of the larger institutions - would not necessarily be beneficial to SOE, or many of the more specialist membership organisations. On critical issues such as Brexit and the government’s industrial strategy, smaller PEIs will not necessarily match the interests of other, larger groups on matters of policy. Again, it would be difficult to reach consensus on such broad topics if conversations were defined only through civil, electrical and mechanical engineering factions, without each specialisation having an equal voice.

It should be noted, in context of mergers, that this profession is simply not suited to a one-size-fits-all approach and, as such, we do not support merger recommendations. There are many challenges to conducting mergers which are not discussed in the report which are important to raise here – not least of all, the costs. The merging of back office functions, reallocation of service provision, re-branding, converting IT systems and data protection issues, all come at a great cost.

Aside from the financial implications of potential mergers, there are also qualitative matters that need to be addressed. SOE, as with many of the specialist PEIs, is made up of many experienced practitioners - often volunteering their own time - who are uniquely dedicated to their industry sectors, and who care deeply not just about our sectors, but the performance of engineering on a broader, national level. Our members value the diversity of knowledge we are able to give, and we believe this could be lost by integrating certain services. These services represent value for money; our increasing levels of membership year-on-year reflect this, and it is important to make the distinction between the cost and value. If our members did not feel they were getting value from our services, they would simply not renew their membership, yet our membership renewal rates, which are consistently high, would indicate that this is not the case.

Since the release of the report, SOE and its affiliates have been asked whether we feel our organisation can continue in its current form. As a membership and standards organisation, it is our duty to adapt to the needs of the profession we represent, and our statistics (above average Engineering Council registration / steady increase of membership) would indicate that we are willing and able to do this. In reference to the combining of the professional standards, we believe EngTech, for example, holds much value to operatives in many engineering sectors and it would be remiss to remove it – along with IEng - altogether. These are two registered levels, which are distinctive and specific, and combining them could lose the esteem in which they are held. These remain career goals for many an engineer, and from our great experience of working with engineers at the EngTech level, a crucial acknowledgement of technical competence, and a desire to achieve and progress. We support the need to broadcast engineering council registration to a wider audience, but we do not believe combining those two levels would solve the problem of the ‘missing’ and unregistered three or four million engineers.

As with everyone involved in the engineering community, we are well aware that targeted work needs to be done in creating a more appealing image of the profession. As referenced in the report, the status of engineering in the UK has gradually declined in comparison to other major European countries, such as Germany and France. Engineering UK is doing excellent work in altering the image of engineering in the younger generation and, again, SOE are open to further collaboration in promoting the benefits of a career in engineering, and the many forms this can take.

SOE is convinced that industry flourishes with competition and that a great deal would be lost should larger organisations be permitted to take control of smaller ones. It is in the interests of all smaller PEIs to make our voice heard, whilst working to ensure we provide a valuable service to our members, and a prosperous future for all engineers.

UK Engineering 2016 - An Independent review led by Prof John Uff CBE, QC, FREng [PDF - 3MB]

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