Engineer Carolina Lameiras used to be a member of the ICE. Now she’s studying for an IStructE chartership. In the last of our series of heads to heads, she asked the presidents of both institutes the same tough questions
The woman with the questions
Carolina Lameiras graduated from Kingston University with a civil engineering degree in 2004. She has worked for Adams Kara Taylor for two-and-a-half years. She was a member of the Institution of Civil engineers (ICE) at university, but has now chosen to specialise in structural engineering and is a graduate member of the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE). She is also studying for her chartership with IStructE, which includes the infamous seven-and-a-half hour exam. She is a member of Building’s graduate advisory board.
The men with the answers
David Harvey (above left) graduated from the University of Bristol in 1969 with a BSc in civil engineering. He specialised in bridge design and became chartered through IStructE. After gaining an MSc in structural engineering, he emigrated with his family to Vancouver in 1982 . He is IStructE’s president for 2006/07.
IStructE at a glance
Annual fee: free for students, £117 for graduates, £227 for members
Quentin Leiper graduated in civil engineering from Glasgow University in 1975, and later completed an MSc in geotechnical engineering. Having spent 16 years with specialist subcontractors, he joined Carillion in 1991, where he is director for engineering and the environment. He became president of the ICE in November.
ICE at a glance
Annual fee: free for students, £157 for graduates, £229 for members
CL Most university courses concentrate on theory rather than design. Could your institution influence universities to provide a more realistic training scheme? Surely that would spark more interest from graduates and mean you lose fewer to other industries?
DH It’s not really the role of the university to train people for their professional careers; it’s their role to educate them. We expect the profession to pick up from the academic training – that would be done by a combination of employer and institution.
CL But when I was in university, it didn’t give me an insight into the industry at all.
DH It never will do, to be honest. University courses are geared to education, not experience.
QL It’s important that you go to university to get an education as opposed to training. There’s a distinct difference. It’s very important for students coming out of university to understand the engineering principles. I’m not in favour of teaching people to design to codes; I want them to understand the engineering basis of designing a retaining wall. You come out with an education, and develop analytical and problem-solving skills.
But we do have joint board of modulators who accredit university courses and we do steer the output from universities. There’s more health and safety in them now. The other thing we’ve asked them to do in the past four years is introduce sustainability. There’s a lot of industry involvement now – people who come in and help with design or project work, or deliver lectures on specific topics such as sustainability. Universities are using industry to make sure there’s a relevance to what the students are going to do in the marketplace.
CL What is the your institution doing to increase the percentage of female engineers?
DH We’re looking at opening the profession to everybody regardless of gender or any other minority status. It takes time and we have to have people coming through the education system. Our latest statistics suggest that members below 35 are 16% female and it’s been rising steadily in recent years.
I have absolutely no issue with male or female colleagues and team members.
Having said that, there are certain jobs and roles more suitable for men and some more suited to females. I know some engineering companies that are 100% female. They’re very small but they do a very good job.
I don’t see it as the institution’s role to promote engineering to any particular minority group, what we want is an inclusive profession. We don’t have any targets.
QL We’re encouraging all school kids into the profession, and it’s very heartening that more ladies are doing so. Our female membership is up by 14%. I was criticised in Manchester for saying that people who put their heads above the parapet and select civil engineering rather than falling into it do better, and quite a lot of ladies do self-select in a way that lads don’t. Ladies are coming through much more quickly. Of the ICE’s 13 young apprentices, selected by local committees, six are ladies.
We need to be seen as an equal opportunities industry, and it is more sophisticated than it was. You no longer see calendars on the wall and builders wolf-whistling.
All this encourages ladies. Our next president but one is Jean Venables, who will be our first lady president.
CL I’m constantly told I don’t look like a structural engineer because I’m not a man in his forties with glasses. How is your institution going to break out of the stereotype?
DH We represent all members of the profession. We’re representing the competent structural engineer. We’re about public safety and delivering value to our clients. I would steer very clear of stereotypes – they’re 100% wrong here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone who fits your stereotype and thought of him as a typical structural engineer.
CL But it’s easy for us to say that because we’re in the profession. The public has that misconception. Surely changing the image would help attract more young people?
DH We’re constantly promoting our profession, but we’re not trying to steer that towards the appearance of the individual. The message we need to get out is that we’re delivering value to the community. We’re not trying to create a certain image.
We’re a cross-section of society.
QL Twenty years ago, when I was first on the council, one or two of us were in our mid-thirties, and the rest were all late fifties and sixties. Now we have a lot of younger members. In the regions, we’ve got lots of involvement from young people. They’re driving some of the activities, particularly in schools, that get in the papers and this publicity will bring people round to the perception that engineering is a bright young people’s game.
CL What about the professional status of the engineer? If you go to the bank and say you’re an engineer, it’s not considered a skill because a plumber can be an engineer. At the weekend when the trains have engineering work, it’s really maintenance work – the word is misused. What are you doing about this?
DH Status has to be earned. In places where people are on a specialist register entitling them to practise, status tends to be higher. This exists in Scotland and there’s every expectation it will be adopted in England and Wales in the not too distant future.
We don’t have a protected title in the UK, but this is the closest we’re going to get.
We are about raising the profile of structural engineers and ensuring only competent individuals are registered to practise. With that, I am confident public opinion will move in the direction of higher status.
QL “Architect” is a protected name, engineer is not. But we can raise our status. If the ICE’s 77,000 members considered themselves marketing managers for the profession and helped people understand how we serve society. Things like the London Eye and the Falkirk Wheel have helped. The institution is doing a lot. We have a marketing and communications team now.
CL Most structural engineers start with a civil engineering degree and then convert.
At times it feels like IStructE and ICE are representing the same people. Where do you see yourselves in relation to your rivals?
DH IStructE represents structural engineers, but not other types of engineer. The ICE has a much wider remit. There’s no reason why you can’t belong to both and 20% of our members do. We work co-operatively with all our sister institutions in the built environment. The profession as a whole is unified on the way it interacts with government.
QL We’ve grown up historically with slightly different agendas. We’ve been going since 1818. At some point, they must have felt there was a need for something for structural specialists. We all feel happy in our homes.
CL Once a structural engineer gains chartership, within a few years they can obtain ICE membership without going through the process again. Why? It makes the ICE chartership seem less valuable.
QL I wouldn’t say that. We have a boatload of sister organisations. In the case of IStructE, we’ve taken the view that the training and development required will also satisfy our chartership.
It’s not automatic and there is a time limit. Individuals have to make an application and a written submission that’s reviewed by a panel. That panel can call them for interview or reject them.
Members only: a few questions just for the structural engineers
Carolina is a member of IStructE, but not the ICE. She had a few questions directed specifically at David Harvey
CL Why does the IStructE magazine continually put car parks, basements and slipform on its cover? Isn’t it an opportunity to celebrate finished buildings and innovations rather than everyday construction?
DH Structural engineering isn’t a beauty parade; it’s a serious business and we have to get technical information out there about how you achieve those effects. We’re going to see a range of covers, some of which will be finished buildings, some of which will be under construction. That’s the nature of structural engineering, so you’ll continue to see it on the cover.
CL When the magazine is doing an overseas issue, on Hong Kong for example, it’s more interesting and you pick it up. Then you get the normal magazine and you’re like, “not another slipform”, and it gets left on the side.
DH I might ask somebody else and find they’re more interested in other aspects of structural engineering. We try to keep it as relevant, newsworthy and technically interesting as possible.
CL Is the seven-and-a-half hour exam the best way to test structural understanding? It seems to be more of an endurance test.
DH It’s exactly the right standard for testing engineering competence – it’s regarded as the gold standard throughout the world and it was developed in order to tease out the high-level skills that mark out a competent engineer. The fact that we’ve been doing it since 1920 with very little alteration suggests we must be doing something right.
CL I can cope with exam conditions, but some people don’t perform as well as they could.
DH We make the exam as objective as possible, looking for certain skills, and there are opportunities to practise. This year, we’ve issued an exam training CD to everyone who’s taking it to make sure they’re aware of what’s required. The institution doesn’t carry out any courses, but members carry out training courses on their own initiative.
CL There’s a general view that there’s a lack of communication between IStructE and its members. A lot of the time, the young structural engineer is paying for membership so they can get the card and the magazine, but the communication stops there.
DH We are embracing new technology. Ten years ago we didn’t have a website. Now we’ve got a very good one. Two years ago, we introduced an e-newsletter for members. I’d like to see more younger engineers engaging with the institution – it isn’t a question of what members get from IStructE, it’s what they can contribute to the profession. There’s also a lot of contact with schools. We’re trying to get the message across to young people what an exciting and fulfilling profession engineering is.
CL The magazine seems to be aimed at someone who’s more experienced. Will you introduce a section for young engineers?
I think a stepping stone is needed for them to get closer to the institution.
DH Well, we have a young members group – are you a member of that? The institution is extremely encouraging of younger member involvement, but not enough young members get involved. There’s a “sit back and see what the profession gives to them” attitude.
CL I think there’s a bit of a lack of communication. Until today, I didn’t realise there was a young members group.
DH Go to the website. All the information is there. It’s not the easiest site to navigate, but we will be improving it later this year. You can email me any time you like. If there’s anything you can’t find on the site, let me know. We’re a very responsive organisation when we get questions.
David Harvey was trying to reach out to younger members but, at the same time, I think he likes the idea of the institution being quite old-fashioned. There’s definitely a lack of communication between the institute and its members – I didn’t find out about the young members group until the meeting. I don’t think we’ll be seeing any great changes.
They’ve changed quite a bit since I was a member in university – they’ve definitely taken steps to modernise themselves. Quentin Leiper was very chatty and enthusiastic about the interview, and it’s good to know that he doesn’t fall into the general engineering stereotype. They seem a few steps ahead of other parts of the construction industry for letting the public know what we do.
The other articles in this series can be accessed at www.building.co.uk/archive