Younger members workshop

Materials World magazine
,
1 Jun 2017

In an unprecedented event, young members from 35 professional engineering institutions came together to discuss the future of the institutes, as Ellis Davies reports. 

On 5 May 2017, 35 PEIs came together at a single event for the first time to allow cross-institution communication. As part of the 21st Century PEI for Professional Engineering Institutions (see Materials World, February 2016, page 16), the Young Members Workshop was held at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) in London, UK, to gather feedback and hear from younger members across a range of institutes. The day comprised a variety of activities designed to allow members to relay their needs and wants to the CEOs of PEIs, including group workshops, presentations and feedback sessions. The event also provided the opportunity for professionals from all 35 engineering institutions to find out about the other PEIs. 

A box of paint

Following talks from Martin Powell, CEO of the Institution of Structural Engineers, and Dr Bernie Rickinson, CEO of IOM3, the members formed four workshop groups to carry out the morning's tasks. The first came in the form of a paint box. 

Each tube of ‘paint’ was labelled with an idea for improvement put forward by the CEOs of the PEIs, and the groups were tasked with arranging these tubes in order of priority. Each group was also given blank tubes of paint, with which they could add their own ideas to the list of priorities. 

These sessions were filled with discussion and debate concerning the future needs of PEIs, as well as frequent comparisons of young members' experiences in their respective institutes. The participants' varied involvement in the PEIs also yielded interesting conversation, some being very involved and holding positions on committees, whereas others were less so. This interaction allowed them to gauge the value of greater involvement.

Once the paint box was full, the groups moved onto the second task, which involved placing all 35 PEIs into ‘clusters’ under a common term, such as energy. Discussion during this task was varied, with many debates over which PEIs belonged in each cluster. There was a desire by many to attempt to find cluster names that would encompass all 35 institutes, rather than to create several smaller clusters. 

Finally, members were asked what they would like the next step to be. Action was the word on most lips, with members asking for a follow-up event to see the results of their ideas, and to continue to work with the CEOs to help 21st Century PEI progress. 

Debate and discussion

With the boxes filled, the groups reunited to discuss priorities. It became apparent that all groups had placed an emphasis on communication and career development, grasping the opportunity to put forward their own ideas, which ranked high. 

The need for a common communication platform was raised, which would allow members to talk to each other and promote their events across every institute. This tied in with a point put forward by the CEOs regarding a shared diary of events, which would allow each PEI to be informed of the others’ event schedule so that members who are interested in topics outside of their institution could attend. 

Continual professional development (CPD) also featured highly in the discussion, with members feeling that an online system for keeping track of CPD across all the PEIs would provide greater flexibility for members and an easy way of monitoring personal progression. Once the young members had debated the issues among themselves, a number of CEOs joined the room to hear what the members thought. 

Aside from the group activities and discussions, the event also hosted three short presentations from representatives of the Young Members committees of IOM3, IET and the Institute of Structural Engineers (IStructE) detailing their various projects involving younger members, such as the IOM3 Matopoly event, the IET Global Challenge and the IStructE Young Engineers Conference. 

The day was rounded off by Dana Brintz, Graduate Research Engineer at the National Composites Centre, Bristol, who talked about her meandering route into a career in materials science, through art. As well as detailing her journey to becoming involved in materials, Brintz shared some of her favourite pieces of art that use materials science to create unique images and sculptures, such as Jeff Koon’s Play Doh, which is made of polychromed aluminium to look like the modelling compound. 

The Young Members Workshop allowed participants to discuss with each other, and their CEOs, the pros and cons of the current PEI structure and proved to be a day of beneficial discussion for all parties. What do you feel was the most valuable part of the event?

AH: Meeting other like-minded young professionals full of ideas, and the fact that the CEOs were willing to open themselves and their institutions up to new ideas. It's quite an exposing thing to do, but it is the first step to evolving the organisations and making them fit for the 21st Century. It is also great to see the institutes coming together, which might otherwise be competition for each other’s members. If, as a collective, we can deliver on some of these proposed ideas then all the institutions and the professions will be in a much stronger position going forward.

LA: Having discussions with other representatives to see how they support their young members. It was really encouraging to know that we are all on similar pages in terms of what we want from a PEI and how we think a 21st Century PEI should look like.

Do you think an event with the participation of all PEIs should be a regular occurrence?

AH: Potentially. It depends what the purpose of the event would be. I think a lot of our generation are focused on the 'why' they do what they do. If we are driving towards specific industry-wide challenges,
then for sure, the PEIs could be a great place to make things happen.  

LA: I think it is useful as long as we are doing things off the back of the events. One point that I stressed before, during and after the event was that we need
to be putting actions to the discussions, so we are moving somewhere with it, rather than just continuously talking.

What did you take away from the event? 

AH: At the Energy Institute (EI), we are doing some great things with new young members groups springing up every year. However, other institutions have been doing it much longer. I took away some great advice on new event formats, how to improve our own young members groups, and how to structure the participation of young members within the EI for the longer term. 

LA: I believe collaborative activities are already taking place at a young member and local level. So I want to ensure we establish and strengthen the relationships we already have, and continue to seek opportunities to work with the other PEIs.

What would you like to see going forward?

AH: As a group we wanted to know how the ideas and feedback we gave would be used, and how the CEOs will work together to ensure that all institutions provide greater value and relevance for their members. Not just the young members – I believe a lot of us would like to see a clear vision for the PEI emerge, with prioritised challenges that we can all get stuck into.

One particular idea that emerged was the creation of a Spotify-style platform that could be accessed with a sort of engineering passport. As individuals, we all want different things from our institutes, in the same way we all have different music tastes. If we could access an expert news article from one institute, an event from another, specific technical guidance from a third and a TEDx style video from a fourth – while updating my CPD with my home institute and not forgetting an online training course too – that would be fantastic. The app would allow all the Institutes to know what their members want and therefore adapt and improve their offering at a much faster pace. For example, if you had been reading about a new technology, it could recommend that there is an event on that topic run by a different institution next week. Or, if someone wanted to start a group or 'playlist', others could 'follow' them.

It's also something that, once built, would allow knowledge, skills and good practice to be spread globally at very low cost. Something like this could really bring engineering profession into the 21st Century. We just need to plot a pathway to get there.

LA: I would like to see the CEOs going into YM meetings to understand what YMs are doing and what they want to a deeper level. I also expect plans to be laid out with priorities and timelines identified. I understand this is not going to be a straightforward venture, but there are things that we can begin to do.

Andy Hadland, Chief Development Officer at Arenko, UK, and Energy Institute Council member for Young Professionals.

Lydia Amarquaye CEng MIMechE, Chair of the IMechE Young Members Board.