Comment & Analysis

IMechE in Canada: inclusion and collaboration

William Hesser, Young Members Representative, Americas

There are unique similarities in how the various UK professional engineering institutions (PEIs) have spread beyond the British Isles. William Hesser, IMechE's Young Members Representative in the Americas reports.

This expansion is largely due to Chartered Engineers from the UK relocating to various parts of the world and taking it upon themselves to establish local groups of like-minded individuals competent in their respective fields. In some cases, these groups consist of members from a single institution such as a local branch of the IMechE.

In other cases, these expats have embraced a more interdisciplinary and inclusive approach, forming combined groups of engineers chartered by one of the many PEIs. There are substantial benefits to this model, and in December 2018 I had the opportunity to visit with joint groups of Chartered Engineers across Canada about how they operate.

As an elected representative of IMechE Young Members across the Americas, the majority of my focus has admittedly been in areas where local IMechE volunteers have mobilised to engage students and graduate engineers – namely Texas and the Caribbean. While these groups do collaborate with different engineering organisations from time to time, their committees, membership, funding, mailing lists, etc. are representative of a single Institution and as such, a single engineering discipline. This is not the case for two of the Canadian groups I recently had the pleasure of meeting.

Based in Vancouver, Chartered Engineers Pacific (CEP) consist of members from the IMechE, CIBSE, ICE, IET, and IStructE. In fact, at the time of my visit the group was without a local IMechE representative, so I met with committee members Matthew Walton-Knight (ICE), Suresh Vishwakarma (IET), and George De Ridder (IStructE).

They all appreciate the need for IMechE involvement and even offered to help organise IMechE-run events and competitions such as Speak Out for Engineering. However, there was considerable discussion over the institutions’ place overseas, and whether or not the UK PEIs stood a chance against the local, legally recognised professional engineering licenses and organisations. It was clear that although the UK SPEC is highly regarded and conveys a certain level of legitimacy, the market for new member engagement in Canada is a wash and the true purpose of these groups may simply be supporting existing members who have moved from across the pond. While I have found this to be the case in many parts of the world, it remains a difficult pill to swallow from the (albeit idealistic) perspective of a non-UK citizen motivated by the potential of a truly international engineering society. 

The day prior I had travelled across the Strait of Georgia to Victoria for a visit with IMechE Fellow and past-CEP Chairman Kris Gadareh. After kindly picking me up from the ferry terminal, Kris and I shared hours of discussion touching on many of the same points raised by the CEP committee back in Vancouver. We all seem to understand the reality that leadership and member engagement ebbs and flows with the presence of ambitious volunteers (or lack thereof). Everyone agreed that one of the greatest strengths of the joint group model lies with the multiple PEIs that are able to sustain local activity and member engagement even if one PEI might be facing hard times.

My next meeting took me across the snow-covered Canadian Rockies to Calgary to talk with members of the Canadian Prairies Group of Chartered Engineers (CPGCE). This too is a joint group made up of members from the ICE, IET, IMechE, and IStructE. I was met by Rick Marshall (IMechE), Bob Salt (IMechE), and Nigel Shrive (ICE) who were all very friendly and fantastic hosts. Many of the same issues facing the overseas relevance of the UK Institutions surfaced in the discussions. In fact, one CPGCE member who is Chartered through the IMechE but not professionally licensed in Canada was recently prosecuted for using the term “Engineer” after his name. The legal discourse that followed was ultimately resolved by adding “UK” to his post nominals, which one might argue further dilutes the Chartered Engineer’s importance outside of the United Kingdom.

My last stop took me to Toronto to attend a festive dinner hosted by the IMechE Central Canada Branch (CCB). While the CCB is not technically a joint group, members of the IET and BCS were in attendance - something I came to understand is common at CCB functions. The dinner was preceded by a meeting attended by much of the CCB committee including Chairman John White, hon. Secretary Phil Apperly, and hon. Treasurer Peter Dennis. Group financials and plans for the following year were discussed, including a talk by Prof. Stephen Armstrong at the University of Toronto, a Mitsubishi plant tour, and the changing circumstances surrounding the Formula North student racing competition held in Barrie, ON. Similar issues relating to the Canadian Professional Engineer status were discussed, this time in regard to the license being issued on a provincial, rather than a national, basis.

The initial motivation for this trip was to explore opportunities for Young Member engagement and student outreach. I left Canada feeing as though I had done all I could to encourage and support such endeavors, especially in the joint groups with volunteers from other PEIs who have already been doing great work in that department. What I hadn’t planned on was the lesson of inclusion and teamwork I learned from my Canadian counterparts.

While travelling between meetings I took the time to read through Prof. John Uff’s “UK Engineering 2016” – an independent review of UK professional engineering jointly commissioned by the three largest PEIs in the United Kingdom: the ICE, IET, and IMechE. The comprehensive and eye-opening report details the need for reform and combination of many aspects of the PEI, which he deemed “no longer serves the best interests of the profession or its members, or engineering employers as clients in the UK or internationally” and “perpetuate divisions between branches of engineering which have little or no relevance today and which potentially prejudice the interests of the profession as a whole.”

These and many other conclusions set forth in the report have been addressed by these Canadian joint groups for decades prior to the review even being commissioned. The need for collaboration between engineering disciplines, along with a critical examination of members’ needs have been explored in these joint groups out of necessity, which we all know is the mother of invention. If the PEIs in the United Kingdom are struggling to secure their place in the future of our great profession, perhaps it would help to look in parts of the world where the relevance of the Chartered Engineer has, and continues to face, an even steeper uphill battle.


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