It’s all about identity

By Geoff Baker

In the buildings of our great Engineering Institutions that surround Parliament, there has been unprecedented turmoil for the past year that echoes, with uncanny similarity, to the historic issues now being faced by Parliament and our country.

There must be great confusion and dismay amongst the 120,000 Members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) around the world as to what has gone on over the last 12 months, and indeed, what is still going, not just in the IMechE at Birdcage Walk in Westminster, but in our other long-established Engineering Institutions that were established hundreds of years ago by the great engineers of the past.

We have seen special meetings, votes of no confidence, financial arguments, regime changes, resignations of Presidents, CEOs and Trustees and sadly much ‘fake news’ abound in social media. To the outside world, it must appear that our Engineering Institutions are tearing themselves apart and there must be many people left wondering, what’s going on and what’s it all about?

The constitutional crisis facing our country now is fundamentally all about how we see ourselves and how we see the future; it’s all about identity.

The crisis we are in now brought about Brexit. It has highlighted that there are basically two choices for the country going forward, to be a separate independent country or to be a part of Europe, and our country is divided. Do we see our identity as British, or as European?

It’s the same issue being faced by our Engineering Institutions. Do we see our future as remaining as separate, independent, single disciplined Engineering Institutions or do we see a future as an integrated, multi-disciplined ‘Institution of Engineering’?

Over the last few years the successive Presidents – including myself – Trustees and the Executives of the major Engineering Institutions have worked towards seeing if complex governance structures and Royal Charters, established over the last 200 years, could be changed to create a new vision for Engineering; one that would be relevant and fit for purpose for 21st century and beyond; one that would be  stronger and hence more influential in responding to the societal needs of engineering.

To those involved, it was, and still is, an exciting vision of the future for engineering. However, like the choices facing our country, there are those that see a different vision for the future of our institutions; a future that seeks to maintain a separate identity from the current 36 separate singled disciplined Engineering Institutions.

“If you don’t like change, you will like irrelevance even less” – John Uff

It is understandable, why some in our institutions would not want change. The current status defines for them who they are and what they are proudly part of; it defines their very identity.

Unfortunately, the bitter and hostile battles that have ‘identity’ at their root cause, have resulted in many of the advocates for this new vision to leave or to be forced out.

However, the debate as to how we see our future and the future role of our Engineering Profession cannot and will not go away. Our Institutions must change, but change is difficult and challenges the very nature of how we define ourselves. But as John Uff put it in his recent review of the Engineering Profession, “If you don’t like change, you will like irrelevance even less”.

It is important that the debate about our future is kept alive, but the future is not about us, or those who will decide what the future will look like. Our future is about the younger engineers who are now entering the profession and about the children we are inspiring to become the engineers of the future.

See how our younger engineers see the future of engineering: We are Engineers


See more about what the Future of Engineering could look like and watch Geoff’s video: Engineering in Society – The Role of an Engineering Institution in the 21st Century



Download the booklet:

Geoff Baker, The Role of an Engineering Institution in the 21st Century

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