Ian Bowbrick CEng CEnv FIMMM (Profile)

Fellows' Lounge
,
13 Jul 2010
Ian Bowbrick

Ian
Bowbrick has experienced more than his share of variety in a
career which has seen him working for the last 20 years in engineering
education, following a period in industry which saw him starting as a
technician and ending up as a Production Manager.

 

Ian's
industrial career started in the 1980s working as a Production Technician at a
local firm who manufactured rubber seals and gaskets, ‘I was concerned with
quality control and spent many hours working on the various production lines,
collecting samples and taking readings. The role itself was fairly routine but
gave me a good technical grounding in a number of polymer processing techniques
such as extrusion and injection moulding. Although I was not concerned with
troubleshooting, I got to the stage where I could diagnose most production
problems and the remedial action that needed to be taken. Unfortunately the
demarcation of the times meant that I couldn't do anything about it.'

What
Ian could and did do however, was to apply to study Materials Science at
university after he completed his BTEC. ‘At the time Brunel had an exceptional
reputation for Materials Science largely through the twin screw extrusion work
being done by Mike Bevis and the injection moulding of ceramics being pioneered
by Julian Evans and Mohan Edirisinghe. Not only were they exceptional
researchers but also very good teachers. I was very fortunate to get a place
and spent a very happy time at Brunel graduating with a decent degree.'

Upon
graduating Ian tried several different careers but decided that his talents
were better suited to manufacturing. Unfortunately he was to find a changed
place, ‘The focus of the economy had shifted and wealth creation from
manufacturing was regarded as infra dig - financial services were now the
powerhouse and many of the best and brightest graduates were being seduced by
the financial rewards, fast cars and Filofax lifestyles.'

However, Ian secured
a contract production engineer position at a company on the South coast and it
was here that one of the most significant knock-on effects of the shift away
from a manufacturing-based economy came to light, ‘My pre-university career had
benefitted greatly from the advice of senior engineers who had amassed a vast
wealth of on the job knowledge over many years. As these engineers had now
started to retire or leave for the service sector, so industry became starved
of the technical backbone on which it is was so reliant at the operational
level; the situation was quite depressing. I concluded that without a national
strategy, UK manufacturing would slowly wither away.'

Several
other contract positions followed, till finally Ian was determined that his
next job would be for an organisation who shared his values. ‘I applied and
secured a post in the education department of what eventually became The Royal
Academy of Engineering. Here, for the first time since graduating, I felt
valued and that I was doing something worthwhile.

'My first role was concerned
with the then relatively new concept of continuing professional development. I
was immediately able to apply my industry knowledge and experience to develop a
number of new initiatives and award programmes focused on technical upskilling
for industrial engineers. All were successful and I take great pride in knowing
that I was instrumental in helping many people reach their potential.'

Within four years, Ian was leading a
small team with a brief to enhance the skills of industrial engineers from the
ages of 26 to 65 years. ‘I was at last able to address many of the human
resource development failings I had seen at first hand in UK manufacturing
industry. The work involved not only technical but also management and soft
skills enhancement; I was also able to promote mentoring, a process that had
been of great benefit to me early in my career.'

More
recently, Ian's work has focused on curriculum enrichment activities, involving
the appointment of industrial visiting professors and teaching fellows to
universities, where they teach students and relate real life technical issues
and challenges to the teaching material. This initiative is of great
significance to Ian: ‘As I saw in industry all those years ago, understanding
the theory is one thing, but the added value is in knowing how to apply it; I
am pleased to be involved in something that has not only recognised this
important issue but is doing something to address it.'

Although
Ian had been concerned with other people's development, he did not neglect his
own, becoming a Chartered Engineer (CEng) in 1993 and a Fellow of the Institute
in 2009. ‘I regard being involved in the Institute's activities as a very
important part of my own professional development. Aside from the wealth of
technical information available, the number of contacts I have made over the
years has proved to be invaluable. Only the other week I needed help at very
short notice and so emailed four members; all came back to me within the hour
and in one case with an opportunity for some collaborative work on a different
topic. I have also been happy to put something back by mentoring a young
engineer who had applied for professional membership of the Institute.'

So
what of the future? ‘My work over the last 12 months has focused on carbon
management and the skill-sets that will be needed by engineers and
technologists to deliver the targets enshrined in the 2008 Climate Change Act;
I see this as being one of the most important projects that I have tackled in
the last 20 years. My commitment to this work led me to retrofitting my own
house as well as applying and becoming a Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv) at
the end of last year.'

On
the subject of the environment and the role of engineers and technologists, Ian
has very clear views: ‘Climate change mitigation is the most important
challenge that we face today. It will be the technical professionals who find
the solutions. There is no doubt in my mind that the Green sector has the
potential to become the new powerhouse for the UK economy and the biggest
employer of engineers and technologists in the coming decade - very much like
manufacturing was at the start of my career.'