Last weekend I was asked to deliver the closing speech for the IMechE Volunteer Conference 2015. I spoke about the importance of the volunteers and active members of the IMechE, and also about the challenges we face as an Institution and as a Profession. Please find below some of the extracts from this speech, I would be pleased hear any comments and feedback from you on any the issues raised.

‘The volunteer part of our organisation is the ‘Heart of the Institution’. We are a member led organisation; through our elected Trustee Board and Council; through all the many Boards and Committees and through the thousands of volunteers like you.

Many of you here today will already be part of this volunteer network; some of you will be considering becoming part of it. If so, I hope this conference has encouraged you to take that step, because without the dedication and commitment of people like you and the many thousands of active members, our great Institution would simply not exist.

In the UK alone, we have 16 regions and 100 local area committees, again many of you here today will already be part of this network. Last year the volunteers in the regions organised over 1000 events which attracted over 25,000 attendees including over 12,000 non-members. All of these activities and events were aligned, in some way, to the Strategic Objectives of the Institution. Just from an awareness perspective in helping to raise the profile of Engineering, these events alone generated over 600 articles in the regional press with a total circulation of 14 million and achieved an estimated media value of over £3 million, a twentyfold increase from the previous year.

The quality and status of these events are improving year on year. We are increasingly using our volunteer network to engage with, and influence, Regional and National Government on the key issues affecting Engineering and the UK economy. Society is also looking to Engineers to address the challenges in all aspects of our life with respect to the Environment, Transportation, Energy and even Food Production; every aspect of our lives is touched by Engineering.

Earlier this year in the lead up to the general election the IMechE developed its own ‘Manifesto on Engineering’. Developed through member engagement; the manifesto outlined the key issues affecting Engineering and Manufacturing today. The manifesto was delivered at events organised by our volunteer regional network to Prospective Parliamentary Candidates throughout the country, many of whom signed up and pledged their support to the five key themes outlined in the manifesto.

However, notwithstanding our achievements, and for the IMechE they are significant, as a Profession we are at a crossroads and we have huge challenges ahead of us.

As an Engineering Profession we are failing.
As a Profession we are failing to talk as one voice on the key issues we face.

There are over 50 different bodies representing different aspects of Engineering in the UK. There are 36 separate Engineering Institutions like our own; each one with its own Executive, Trustee Board, Governance Structure and Constitution; maybe each one having its own Volunteer Conference, and, I suspect talking about the same things.

As a profession we are also failing to deliver the numbers of Engineers and skilled technicians that are predicted to be required over the next five years. UK Engineering and Manufacturing maybe prospering but the sector faces a critical skills shortage; it is currently predicted that the UK will need over 1 million Engineers and Technicians by 2020. This will require a doubling of annual engineering graduates and apprentices over this period.

As a profession we are also failing, not only to attract people into the profession, but we are also failing to attract Engineers into our Engineering Institutions. The Engineering Council registration statistics for last year showed some very concerning trends.

Taking the combined Engineering Institutions registrations, there has been a net decrease in membership for the last 10 years. The Engineering Institutions are losing more members than they are gaining. However, our own Institution is the exception. We have achieved a net increase in membership each year, whilst other Institutions like the IET and ICE are failing to sustain their membership numbers.

Declining membership of the Engineering Institutions as a whole is a huge problem. It is a huge problem because every Engineering Institution, including our own, currently relies on its very existence on membership subscriptions. So the revenue available under the subscription model will be at best fixed or rising moderately, but in many cases decreasing. Whilst at the same time the demands on the Professional Engineering Institutions from Society, Government, Industry and Engineering Profession itself will be increasing rapidly.

We need to deliver step changes in what we do today. How do we achieve all this? This is the challenge we are all facing; but as Engineers we love challenges, we thrive on coming up with solutions to difficult problems – it is in our DNA.

However, in coming up with solutions to these problems we have to be prepared to challenge the ‘norm’;jJust because something has worked for the last 160 years, doesn’t mean that it will be fit for purpose for the next 10, 20, 50 years.

Firstly, we have to look at the membership model and ask ourselves if this is the only way of funding our Engineering Institutions.

A Membership Club, paid for by members, for the benefit of the members, yes, that will always be the foundation; but we have to come up with different ways of revenue generation to have the funds to do the things we need to do.

That means we must appeal to and open our doors to a broader spectrum of Stakeholders who have an interest in Engineering; be that Government, Industry, Universities and even Financial Institutions who fund our major Engineering capital projects and who fund Engineering Innovation.

We also have to develop other sources of income to fund the things we need to do; this is something we are already starting to do within our Institution.

We have to embrace digital technology and the Internet as a way of uniting and bringing together communities of engineers from different disciplines across the globe. An Institution can be virtual; it does not have to be ‘bricks and mortar’ it can be ‘clicks and mortar’, where the mortar is the internet that binds everything together.

The type of choices we have to face could be: is it better to have a beautiful historic building like our headquarters in in the centre of Westminster? Or, is it better for us to have a ‘world-class digital platform’ that unites our currently fragmented profession; a platform not just on a national basis but on a global scale that will reach out to developing nations with our Learned Society Standards.; something perhaps to ponder and debate amongst at the next conference.

We cannot continue to work in Engineering Disciplined Silos. The major Engineering Institutions, even just in the UK, have to be able to work together, not just on the challenges I spoke about earlier but on the ‘Economies of Scale’ on the back office functions. This doesn’t mean the dreaded ‘M’ word merger, which we have stumbled on many times before. But it can mean coming together with a Federated Model where the respect and recognition of the different Engineering disciplines are catered for.

As an Institution we recognise the challenges that we are facing and we will play a ‘Leading Role’ with the other Engineering Institutions in addressing these challenges.

That’s also what conferences like this are all about.

It is about engagement of the members in the challenges we face
It is about being involved
It is about being part of the change process that needs to happen in our profession

It is a very exciting time to get involved and to influence your profession; as I said at the start, we are a member led organisation and you are the members. Volunteers are at the heart of the Institution and without your hard work, dedication and commitment the Institution would not exist.’

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