- Why are management roles promoted within the engineering industry rather than analytical ones?
Becoming chartered as an engineer to any of the governing engineering councils is no mean trick. Anyone who has done so has earned it, through hard graft and diligence. But the route is fairly clearly defined. Take for example the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) – earn your degree, develop Knowledge, Experience & Ability through a process known as IPD or initial professional development and undertake a professional review wherein a submission is prepared for the interrogation of chartered members of the institution and subject to an interview process. Importantly, on-going professional development is considered an integral part of the whole process. In sum, it’s a robust process though, anecdotally, the perception amongst an older generation of engineers is that it’s an easier process than it used to be. Acceptance rates tend to be north of 85% – the ICE doesn’t wear a low acceptance rate as a badge of honour like for example, the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) does which is less than 50% (though it is a different process characterised by an 8-hour written examination).
The IPD is defined by the attainment of attributes. The attributes are as follows:
- Knowledge and understanding of engineering
- Technical and practical application of engineering
- Management and leadership
- Independent judgement and responsibility
- Commercial ability
- Health, safety and welfare
- Sustainable development
- Interpersonal skills and communication
- Professional commitment
Doubtless, a noble list of attributes and most would go without saying. But let’s focus on the “management & leadership” and “commercial ability” attributes. Most engineers, either in the contracting or consulting fields, are usually pressured (we would argue that this is an appropriate descriptor) into project management roles in order to progress to senior positions within organisations. So the average senior engineer in a consulting firm, for example, probably spends more time worrying about WIP than about the granularity of the finite element analysis input and whether it’s appropriate. In other words, spending more time thinking about making the decision under time and/or budget constraints than whether or not the basis of the decision is correct.
In our checking and review work, we see a lot of analytical work that is at best competent but at worst just plain wrong. Thinking specifically of the high-end numerical analysis space, rarely do we see a thorough & well-reasoned piece of computational work that is robust and deals with the investigative issue well. The work looks as if, generally, it’s prepared by an engineer who can run the software competently but is not entrenched in the minutiae of the analysis or doesn’t appreciate the nuances of a constitutive model. At worst, there can be stark misses on basic first principles and blind trust of software leading to substantial misreads of the situation being examined.
There’s a hole to be filled. A dearth of analytical prowess which, we think, arises from the industry norm for progression in one’s career being characterised by movement from a technical role towards a management role. By the way, because of this, management roles are better paid than technical roles. So there is an in-built bias towards talented individuals who prefer the high-level analytical work which, undertaken correctly, can richly inform decision-making. A role which we would argue requires a greater commitment to continuing professional development, given the continuing progress and availability of computational power, continuing research in constitutive modelling and on-going research in soil, structural, environmental and material sciences.