Get chartered - the benefits of being a chartered engineer

Materials World magazine
3 Jan 2011

I am delighted to be writing this column having recently been installed as President of the Mining Institute of Scotland. It is a great honour to hold this badge of office, which can be traced back in an unbroken succession to the founding of the West of Scotland Mining Institute in 1878.

Although my career has been in the upstream oil industry, I am often drawn to the parallels between the mining and petroleum engineering disciplines. Indeed, many petroleum engineering societies around the world evolved from sub-committees of mining associations and institutes, as did our own IOM3 Petroleum Engineering Division.

One noticeable area where the oil industry differs is the lack of incentive or expectation attached to professional registration. As a Civil Engineering undergraduate, it was drummed in to me how important this was, and yet in the oil industry we are in the minority. So it was an obvious question to ask when I gave my Presidential Address – ‘Chartered Engineer – why bother?’

To answer this, it helps to understand why the term ‘engineer’ is not legally recognised in the UK – it would require the particular functions being controlled by statute to be defined. Given the range of engineering disciplines, it is simply not possible to isolate all the functions that engineers undertake, except in a few narrowly defined sectors such as mining.

What many do not realise is that even ‘doctor’ and ‘lawyer’ are not legally protected terms and are not necessarily registered with a professional body. Medical procedures may be undertaken by anyone who obtains the consent of their patient and legal advice is freely available from unregistered practitioners. But the comparison with other professions is an interesting one, and the 180,000 Chartered Engineers (CEngs) registered with the UK Engineering Council is second only to the 220,000 doctors licensed to practice by the General Medical Council. Both are some way ahead of the 115,000 registered with the Law Society. So while anyone may call themselves an engineer, the professional title ‘CEng’ may only be used by someone with Engineering Council registration. This is a legally protected term under the UK Engineering Council’s Royal Charter.

Unlike most doctors, solicitors, civil and mining engineers, petroleum engineers are not required to be Chartered, in the UK at least. Historically, competence has been checked by reliance on a CV, interview and annual appraisal, although it is increasingly common to have company-specific competency assessment schemes in place. While these are welcome developments, only CEng status indicates that your competence has been assessed by other engineering professionals and is comparable with internationally recognised standards.

So why bother, particularly as, like me, I am sure that you work with many good engineers who are not Chartered, and being Chartered is not a guarantee of competence or ability? Perhaps the best reason is that it demonstrates a desire to take responsibility for your professional development, of taking pride in your professional achievements, of going the extra mile. Faced with a choice between similar candidates, one Chartered, one not, which one would you choose?

One of the Institute’s strengths is the diversity of technical disciplines that it represents, and this leads to a similar diversity of professionals eligible to Charter. So whatever your IOM3 technical community, if you are already Chartered, make it a New Year’s resolution to mentor someone through the process. If you are not, then make it an objective for 2011. Joining a local society is a great place to start. 

Further information

Professional qualifications

Local societies

UK Engineering Council

Mining Institute of Scotland

Petroleum & Drilling Engineering Division