In the first in a series of Q&As with Trustee Board members, President John Eastman EngTech CEnv FSOE FIRTE outlines his hopes for the Society and the future for the industry as a whole.

John Eastman

You took on the role of Society President towards the end of last year. What are the key differences between the role of Chair and President? 

Historically, the President has been the Chair of the Board as well as being the President. The Trustee Board has been streamlined, allowing the President to influence the Board without being the Chair. It allows me to step back and take a broader view, allowing an element of freedom to look at the Society rather than chair the Board but still be actively involved as a Trustee and Board member. 

It also gives me the opportunity to communicate more with HQ and relate to the office members as well as helping the chief operating officer where needed. 
How long have you been associated with IRTE and the Society as a whole?

I have been a member since 1973 having been advised by my boss at the time to join the Institute of Road Transport Engineers. In 1985 I applied for membership of the IRTE Council and with tremendous joy, I was accepted. I sat on the Professional Sector Council (PSC) which gave me an insight into the workings of the Institute, learning from senior members and improving my knowledge of transport engineering as well as friendship from fleet engineers of note. I also became registered with the Engineering Council. 

In 2000 the IRTE attracted an additional professional institute, IPlantE, and in 2003 I was asked if I would stand for President of what is now the SOE, a great honour indeed. I have been involved with the SOE and the IRTE Council in one form or another and Chair of the IRTE PSC and Technical Committee as well as being a Trustee. The involvement has always been interesting and rewarding. Being involved with irtec and Workshop Accreditation from conception through to fruition has been greatly rewarding. 

How has the industry changed over the years?

Transport engineering has changed a great deal over the years with many companies moving from ownership to leasing, which saw fleet managers now being with the manufacturers, rather than with a company that once owned all of their vehicles and relied totally on them to manage the fleets and the ownership of the operator licence. My own experience is along these lines, having been with a number of blue chip companies in fuel, flour, brewing and transport. 

In the past, being an engineer/technician in the transport engineering industry as an apprentice was once seen as a recognised career path, but the education system now does not promote such a career; the emphasis being instead on IT and other careers. As a result, there is a lack
of engineers, which is one of the agenda items of the IRTE and other PSCs. Discussions with the operations engineers managers is ongoing as to how we attract youngsters into not only engineering but also membership. 

The Society was formed by the merger of existing membership organisations. Is this something that we may see more of in the future?

Institutions as well as industries go through market share concerns. Looking to stay in the running by means of merger or buyout
is not uncommon with brand names being maintained due to their popularity and market strength. Membership concerns are no different and with the threat of diminishing members due to industry changes and/or focus and the lack of young engineers coming through the education system, merging with similar or added-value organisations can be one way forward. 

How can the industry grow and develop in the future?
A great question with no easy answer. All through my career I have heard how good the Germans are at engineering and producing quality machines. The British have also had this level of recognition but it seems overseas rather than at home. Over the years we have seen industry sold off, and from market leaders in engineering we have lost some ground. 

Certainly a great many things have changed, with technology evolving ever faster and faster. The emphasis seems to be on the softer engineering sectors rather than the heavier end, which
is a shame. Technology has evolved in transport also with leaps and bounds in electronics and telematics. 

I have seen the prestige of having an apprenticeship in engineering drop back when compared with when I started my career. When I left school, the number of school-leavers looking for an apprenticeship was very competitive and the industry was spoilt for choice. If you were selected it was seen as a feather in your cap. You were made for life. 

The apprentices I have seen at the IRTE Skills Challenge and WorldSkills, as well as many others taken on by vehicle manufacturers, are of a very high level, but we need more of them. The interest from school-leavers does not appear to be there and the education system is where it needs to be nurtured. Many apprentices I knew went on to be directors, managing directors and leaders in industry with many large companies, so the career path is there for the taking. Going to university is not necessarily the best route to getting on in life. 

Engineering is not all oil, grease and dirty overalls. This needs to be portrayed to 13 year-olds and school is a great starting point to do that.