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Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Silly Things UK Engineers Say!

I have just received the August issue of Professional Engineering. For those who do not know, this is the free monthly magazine that members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers receive, and it is best described as a tabloid publication aimed at those looking for reinforcement of collective delusions and beliefs. Being poor quality it is not worth reading, but is often good for LOL moments. This issue delivers!

The first of these LOL moments is a letter from an engineer (always good for amusement) bemoaning the fact that underwriters do not include engineering as a profession among their lists of recognised professions. This might well be because engineering is not a profession but an occupation.

I am not saying that there are no engineers who adhere to the same high standards of behaviour as solicitors, physicians, and others, just that, most do not. The bulk of engineers are employees and do what their employers tell them to do, and many such people cause a lot of damage (e.g. to the environment), although most are blind to this – this is the problem when hubris takes hold. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to education and learning, standards of behaviour, ethics, intellectual ability, and so forth, the bulk of engineers come no way near to that which one finds in true professions. And let us not forget that, those engineers in the UK who have achieved professional registration (CEng and IEng) have no obligation to undertake a compulsory amount of Continuing Professional Development to maintain that registration.

So, learn to live with the fact that engineering is not a profession, or do something about making engineering a profession, which means, among other things, raising standards. It also means breaking free from the rock of the past, for if anyone is like Prometheus, it is engineers, who constantly reinvent the past and all its problems, and think, quite stupidly, that they are thought leaders – that’s one hell of a delusion!

The other LOL moment can be found in the commentary section of the publication, where an engineer actually writes “I would love to see to see some major engineering firms giving senior engineers sabbatical leave for five years to run for parliament.” Why for heavens sake would one do such a thing? Are these people incapable of running for parliament without special assistance? Perhaps they are handicapped in some way? Yes of course they are! I have just written about that handicap.

The fact that engineers do not on the whole participate in the political and democratic process speaks not of some handicap, but of an outlook, and having met thousands of engineers over the years, I am glad that there are not many such people to be found in politics, for most, sad to say, are social Darwinists at heart, and fundamentally bound up in a command and control mindset. I can easily imagine the hell on earth that such people would create. I recall one engineer who told me that broadcasters should be forced to transmit programmes extolling the virtues of engineers and what they do. There is a word for this – propaganda.

People usually go into politics to make the world a better place, because they are concerned about social justice, or ensuring that vested interests are prevented form getting their own way, or they want to help the disadvantaged, and so forth. Being a Member of Parliament (MP) is something to be done as a service to society, not to promote the standing of a particular occupation or professional. And certainly we do not want MPs beholden to major engineering firms and feeling obliged to speak for vested interests.

My point is that engineers are important to society, but let us not loose a sense of perspective – so are police officers, paramedics, local authority employees, etc. If engineers want to advance their standing in society they should start to improve themselves, and take a more independent and critical line when it comes to matters such as HS2, nuclear power, etc. And they can begin by stopping saying stupid things, which makes engineers look foolish. It would help also if bodies like the IMechE and the IET offered some leadership on all these matters instead of engaging in hubris and also making engineers look silly.

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