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Engineers go back to school

Yes, STEMNET and its ambassador programme to put engineers into local schools can appear to be a bit bureaucratic at first, as Fraser Greenwood found (Letters, January 2015), but after an afternoon's training session where you basically fill out a form to allow the disclosure process to kick off, it's fine.

OK, they want you to register on their website and log details of any activities you do, but this is to help them understand what activities are being carried out in the schools and to give a central hub for ambassadors to share ideas and good practice.

As they are funded from central government they naturally have to report on how the funding is being spent and they have areas that they are focused on through government initiatives. I have been a STEM ambassador for over four years now and have carried out many activities with schools. I used STEMNET to make initial contact with a few schools and now engage with the schools on my own. I do occasionally engage with STEMNET if there is something on their activity email that interests me and I can help, but basically you can take or leave it as you please.

I have also received tremendous help from the IET's Education Fund in the shape of grants that allowed projects to be funded where they would not have happened otherwise. Again, more bureaucracy involved but not overly onerous and well explained with very helpful IET staff available at all times.

Push through the initial stages and you are free to engage with schools without too much hassle.

Paul Malloy MIET
By email

 

I joined the Engineering Council's Neighbourhood Engineer scheme when it started in 1994 in Christchurch, attending a school that initially had no D&T department or teacher.

With the demise of the scheme I found the whole business of the replacement national one and even a local one formed to retain control of a bequest that funds an annual award too bureaucratic and just continued to attend the school with members of both organisations. Twenty years later I am still there, and so is the competition between initiatives that Fraser Greenwood criticises.

RJ Beazley MIEE MIET
Christchurch, Dorset

 

I am a STEMNET ambassador, based in Surrey and 'managed' by the institution that won the local contract. I can only speak from my personal experiences but have to admit I am disappointed, not necessarily with STEMNET but more so with the schools.

There are lots of requests for ambassadors to attend various career days or talk about specific STEM topics. Also there are the networking evenings where teachers can meet with ambassadors and discuss any projects that an ambassador can assist with.

The enthusiasm shown by the schools and individual staff members is obvious. I have been approached by a teacher and asked if I can help Johnny, who wants to become an electrician. "Of course," I reply, "just give me a call." Then silence, zilch, zero. I am perplexed to the point where I spoke to my STEM manager, commenting that perhaps I was using the wrong aftershave. I was not expecting the reply, "nothing to do with your aftershave, it happens to us all".

I have a suspicion as to what is going on; I think it is probably to do with box ticking, gold stars, or Brownie points. Is it Ofsted demanding more results? I am a small cog in a big wheel and can only guess. However I spent my time and money in good faith wishing to inspire and give my knowledge and experience for free. I now do more with mentoring over the Internet for prospective IET members.

Mike Baker EngTech TMIET
By email

 

Write fast

I wouldn't write off the use of stenograph machines in British courts quite yet ( http://bit.ly/1CGs11n). Voice recognition has come a long way, but there's still some distance to go before the software becomes capable of coping with a conversation and recognising different speakers with different accents.

In fact, the Open Steno Project (openstenoproject.org) is widening the appeal of stenography to areas outside the legal and secretarial professions. With the free Plover open-source software and a keyboard capable of recognising multiple key presses you can use stenography to do things like writing code, transcribing videos and creating reports in Microsoft Word.

The attraction of machine stenography is that you can write between three and four times faster than on a QWERTY keyboard. Professional stenographers can reach speeds of 225-300 words per minute, and lesser mortals can comfortably reach speeds of 160-180 words per minute. As long as there is a need to use a keyboard, there will continue to be a demand for machine stenography.

Ellis Pratt
Ashford, Middlesex

 

A vital balance

I can assure Dr Rob Basto (Letters, January 2015) that I am indeed of the opinion that it is important to balance having a secure electricity supply against meeting our carbon-emission 'obligations'.

My letter in the December 2014 issue of E&T was not about precluding renewables from the generation mix. Rather it was to do with them not being sufficiently in place in time to mitigate the deteriorating situation as regards availability of conventional generation sources. This is not something which may or may not happen in the next 70 years - it is about something that will affect us within the next 10-15 years, if not sooner.

It is difficult to overstate the role of electricity in underpinning our modern civilised society. Nationwide blackouts would mean no communications, no banking or money supply, and no facility to purchase anything anyway. Within 24 hours there would be looting followed by complete breakdown of civil order, which is why I referred to it as a matter of national security. Not much compensation that we would, in reverting to the Dark Ages, at least have 'saved the planet'.

Alan Dick MIET
London

 

Title recognition on the cards

I have worked for many years in European countries where the title of professional engineer is legally protected, and it was abundantly clear that my Belgian, German and particularly Italian colleagues were always treated with great respect, being verbally addressed with the title 'Ingenieur' during technical discussions.

Engineer diplomas were always prominently displayed on office walls, and prior to technical meetings, discreet inquiries were always made about the identity and professional status of all those attending. I always had inconvenience in proving my status, unlike my European colleagues with their inscribed national identity cards.

HM Passport Office has at last recognised the European Federation of National Engineering Associations (FEANI) designation European Engineer - available to MIET chartered engineers who meet the required standards on application through the Engineering Council - as a professional academic title, and the EurIng title is now inscribed before my name on my passport.

The ability to prove identity and professional status still remains inconvenient though if it involves carrying a passport. Now the Passport Office has pioneered official government recognition, this provides an opportunity for all the professional registration bodies to get together and lobby the government to create a voluntary UK national identity card conforming to EU standards for cross-border travel, with inscribed proof of professional status levels, to fit easily in a wallet.

The political outcry from the anti-ID-card brigade would provide an ideal opportunity for clarifying and legally protecting the professional engineer descriptions and status through an Act of Parliament.

EurIng Brian Sturman CEng MIET
Norwich

 

The Engineering Council is occasionally asked whether professionally registered engineers are accepted as certifiers of official documents such as evidence of identity - as might be required to open a bank account or take out a loan. We're pleased to confirm that all those on our register are recognised as being qualified to do so.

This status was formally recognised in 2006, when the Engineering Council was among various organisations that were invited to comment on proposed new guidance published by the Joint Money Laundering Steering Group (JMLSG). Part of the guidance is concerned with mitigating the risk of impersonation when business is not carried out face-to-face. Within this section reference is made to copy documents, submitted as proof of identity, being certified by an 'appropriate person'.

In defining 'appropriate person' the JMLSG's November 2009 'Guidance for the Financial Sector' ( www.jmlsg.org.uk) does not give a definitive list, but references the UK Passport Service list of acceptable counter-signatories for  passport applications (www.gov.uk/countersigning-passport-applications), which has long included 'professionally qualified person (eg. doctor, engineer, lawyer, teacher)'.

Sue Brough
Head of marketing and communications, Engineering Council

 

In the January issue of E&T, Alex Cranswick suggests that acceptance by banks of chartered engineering as a valid profession for endorsing documents would be a way of raising our profile. When I opened an account with the AA Bank recently the list of approved 'professions' for this purpose included estate agents. Maybe we should seek alternative comparators for our status!

Peter Finch CEng FIET
Tring, Hertfordshire

 

Nobody outside a profession has the slightest idea what post-nominals of more than two letters mean, and the British only recognise pre-nominal titles, as ancient as possible and preferably hereditary.These are now in short supply.

The problem with EurIng is that it is too long, bureaucratic and French and tends to get treated as an additional forename by the unwary.

What we need is a simple two-letter pre-nominal that would stand us in good stead were we to leave the EU. Unfortunately the best ones are unsuitable: 'Ar' sounds to rural; 'Br' too cold; 'Cr' too creditworthy; 'Dr' spoken-for and too medical; 'Fr' spoken for and rather High Church etc.

Clearly the solution is 'Er'. It abbreviates 'engineer' neatly and encapsulates British gentlemanly vague hesitancy. It would be the perfect form of address for use by forgetful chairmen introducing unknown engineer guests.

Er no, we must be content with being known by our thoughts, words and deeds.

EurIng Paul Ives CEng FIET
By email

 

How engineers spend Christmas

Over the Christmas period I saw hundreds of engineers on television. They were digging holes, moving ballast, lifting huge lengths of rail track and even driving dumper trucks. I know they were engineers because the nice man on the TV told me they were. In fact, he also told me there were 11,000 of these 'engineers' beavering away over Christmas.

Since I am capable of taking my own temperature and blood pressure measurements, perhaps Sky News could in future refer to me as a doctor. The message is simple, if you want to be an engineer, just grab yourself a shovel.

Philip Lewis MIEE MIET
Bognor Regis

 

Analogue blast from the past

Back in the days of yore, when I was a student, I went on a tour of the Abbey Road studios in London. While demonstrating their model cinema system (on which the master tape of the Hallelujah Chorus sounded especially impressive), the guy taking us round complained that "all the cinema managers have 1930s radios, and the first thing they do following installation is to turn the top right down so it sounds all muffled".

Well, his modern-day counterparts now have digital kit capable of running flat and distortion-free 'from DC to daylight', and here they are, hankering after the sound of that guy's top-quality but imperfect old analogue kit (http://bit.ly/eandt-analogue-recording-gear). They're not so different from the 1960s cinema managers!

This probably explains why I've never heard a recording that sounds like a live orchestra, regardless of how 'hi' the 'fi' of the equipment on which it's being played.

Michael Poole MIET
Paraparaumu Beach, New Zealand
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