What Would Churchill Have Said About The IET?

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“It’s better to jaw jaw than to war war” is one of Churchill’s more famous pronouncements. Now the IET and the IMechE have got along very well for over 100 years and so far as I know neither has ever harboured plans to invade Poland. So I don’t mean to imply that we’re in any way warring – despite cohabiting now since mid 2013. But we certainly are doing a lot of jaw jaw – and it could shape the future landscape for engineering.

I’ve blogged before about the fact that the IET has moved into Birdcage Walk, the home of the IMechE, for two years while Savoy Place is being refurbished. And there is a reasonable chance that we may return the favour after that as the Mechanicals look to refurbish their building.

So, since we are sharing a (virtual) bed for a while, it’s been logical – and actually something of a pleasure – to explore areas where we can work together. Our boards of Trustees have met regularly and there have been some very open discussions about what we might do together. Bread has been broken and wine has been drunk – sometimes being a Trustee is hard work…
The IET Trustees have met a number of times this year to ponder the meaning of engineering life and indeed this week we arranged a much longer than usual meeting so that we could really discuss the future better. And it was a great discussion.

There is a lot of use of the ‘M’ word these days. For those who don’t know, our institutions have twice tried to merge in the past and each time it hasn’t happened. And yet, with 34 different engineering institutions, government and others find our profession to be disjointed and hard to deal with. In short our influence is reduced and our external partnerships not as effective as they could be. Recently commissioned research has backed this up big time.

Indeed our membership arguably feels the same way. Certainly anecdotally at least.

But hold hard here. We also know the problems we at the IET have since we ceased to be the IEE. We are no longer the obvious home for electrical students for example and are having to work harder to recruit these once automatic members.

So imagine how much harder it might be in some merged body with electrical, mechanical, computing and loads more besides.
This loss of specialist identity is a clear danger. How would the membership of the smaller IMechE feel about, as some might see it, being swallowed up by the IET?

Having said that, if our institutions did join up in some way (merger is clearly not the only option), then we would be the bigger half of all the engineering institution members.

So big prizes to be gained, but lots of tank traps in the way. And of course our IMechE colleagues are having similar discussions amongst themselves.

I’m not going to go into any detail of our discussions. I just wanted you to be aware that these are difficult issues and a lot of work and thought is going into them these days. And wine of course.

Will we get it right? Well, history will judge this because even if we take some momentous decisions, their real effect will not be clear for a long time to come. I have to say that I rather love the idea of a bunch of learned historians sitting down in 50 years and judging our work. As if ‘history’ will be that worried about what a few well meaning (and technically amateur) engineers do. Well, OK it may not shake the world, but it could make a huge difference to the literally millions of engineering types who could become our future members. While also having quite an effect on the economies of the countries in which they live. So maybe our historians should be having a few sleepless nights about this some day.

Churchill also said a few other things. One of my favourites is –

“Never, never, never (repeat for as many times as you’ve had glasses of brandy) give up”.

I think that is very good advice for both our institutions. And certainly much more relevant than “We will fight them on the beaches….”
Posted by Alan Watts on Mar 6, 2014 12:04 PM Europe/London

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