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What has my professional institution ever done for me?

You dutifully pay them your subscriptions year on year, and you’re vaguely aware of belonging to a wider community that sometimes seems abstract and nebulous, but make your membership work for you and the benefits will be immense.

As a member of a professional institution you have access to a raft of benefits and resources, and products and services, but it’s down to you to make the most of what’s on offer. Whether it’s taking steps in raising your professional status, regularly networking with likeminded individuals or working to further your continued professional development (CPD), start making your membership work for you.

If the extent of your involvement is vaguely being aware of the thump on your doormat once a month when your members’ magazine arrives then you need to take action and investigate what your institution can do for you.

“Career development…”

“Oh yeah, they gave us that. Yeah. That's true.”

Your professional institution supports the professional development (PD) of its members through information, resources and lifelong support. Most professional bodies provide the tools to help you get started with your own PD programme. The IET’s PD support centres around competences: the recognised knowledge, skills and attributes needed to deliver results in your area of expertise. In this way, it aims to keep you at the leading edge of your profession, can help set you on the path towards professional registration, and points you towards the resources that will help you progress your career.

Professional institutions usually provide a structured CPD monitoring scheme for their members also, offering guidance and feedback as well as training, courses and other learning activities.

Commenting on his ongoing CPD, Cliff Hughes, a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) says, “I am very satisfied with where my career has taken me, but still have a very proactive attitude to keeping myself up to date and involved with my profession. CPD activities are the things that get my brain working again and remind me of why I became an engineer in the first place.”

Look out for mentoring opportunities also. If you’re at the beginning of your career or you’ve been promoted into a new role, a mentor can help you make a confident transition, moving you on towards career success. IET member Darren Johnston, a project engineer at Sellafield Ltd, found that IET membership has given him great support throughout his career. “IET mentors were invaluable in helping me achieve CEng status. During my time with the IET I have had two and their help has been extremely important,” he says.

“And professional registration!”

“Well yes, obviously professional registration…that goes without saying.”

Want to increase your professional status and gain recognition for the level of expertise you have achieved? Your professional institution can guide you through the process.

Professional registration is an important milestone in your career and a formal recognition that you have met standards of knowledge, understanding and competence set by the Engineering Council. IET member Anna Gilbert was awarded Chartered Engineer (CEng) status at the age of 25, joining the growing number of young professionals that achieve professional registration in their 20s.

Commenting on the process, she says, “I think it’s important to work towards professional registration to distinguish real engineers from technicians and other work fields that label themselves as 'engineers'. I think the process keeps you motivated too and focused on what you can do next."

Professional registration demonstrates your commitment to the profession and to professional standards, and could offer you higher earnings potential, improved career prospects and greater influence within your organisation and industry.

You’ll be in very good company too. The Engineering Council is the UK regulatory body for the engineering profession and holds the national registers of some 232,000 Engineering Technicians (EngTech), Information and Communications Technology Technicians (ICTTech), Incorporated Engineers (IEng) and Chartered Engineers (CEng). In addition, the Engineering Council sets and maintains the internationally recognised standards of professional competence and ethics that govern the award and retention of these titles. This ensures that employers, government and wider society - both in the UK and overseas - can have confidence in the knowledge, experience and commitment of professionally registered engineers and technicians.

As Engineering Council CEO Jon Prichard explains: “Becoming professionally registered through your professional institution is more than just a one-off assessment, it is a life-long commitment that you make to yourself and society to keep yourself up to date with the latest developments in your sector. Routinely calling on the extensive knowledge resources of a body like the IET is a fundamental part of being a professional.”

“Knowledge resources…”

“Library and archives…publications…events…Yes... all right, fair enough...”

You’re a member of a professional body that houses a vast bank of material, a trusted source of vital information. Perhaps you’re in the middle of coursework or a dissertation and need some specific material? Maybe you want something extra to submit with a work project? Or you just want to stay abreast of what’s happening in your field? Then look to your professional institution.

Members of professional institutions have access to books, research papers, factual data and historical information that may be hard to find elsewhere. For example, IET Library and Archives offers you access to a world-class collection of digital and printed resources on all areas of engineering and technology, containing 65,000 printed books and 3,500 print journals. Other engineering bodies have similar collections. For example, the Institution of Civil Engineers’ (ICE) library in London is one of the most in-depth civil engineering and construction libraries in the world and its services can be accessed by its members across the world.

Then there’s the publications. Remember the thud on your doormat once a month? As well as your members’ magazine there’s also the numerous books, journals and magazines covering science, engineering and technology that you can get your hands on. And, it gets even better, you’ll enjoy significant discounts on the majority of these in print and online.

How about events as well! What better way to meet like-minded people and at the same time fulfil some of your CPD requirements?

As ICE graduate member Claire Gott, a structural engineer at WSP, says, “Membership gives you the opportunity to get involved in regional, national and international networking events, competitions and educational seminars, and all of these contribute to building your network of contacts as well as lifelong learning.”

“And the activities…”

“Oh yes! True!”

Your professional body isn’t just an abstract concept out there hovering somewhere in the ether. Bring it back into focus and get involved! There are so many ways that you can take part, from the comfort of your own armchair/desk to physically attending meetings and events. Interaction allows you to share your expertise, develop your knowledge and contacts, and broaden your horizons.

Communities of members within your professional body will be formed across subject fields, industry sectors and geographical areas. There really are no boundaries to involvement – apart from apathy! Your institution of choice might also have a professional online networking and collaboration platform like the IET’s MyCommunity, allowing members to connect, interact and exchange knowledge.

As IET member Clara Ping Man explains, “I participate in various technical events of my Local Network to keep myself updated with the latest development in my profession. I have also been a volunteer, which enabled me to develop my soft skills and network with other volunteers and members. My participation as a volunteer has been a valuable experience for me. I have developed my soft skills through organising various events. I also gained friendship with other volunteers and experienced engineers.”

“All right...all right...but apart from career development and professional registration and knowledge resources and activities…what has your professional institution ever done for you?”

“Invested in the next generation!”

“What!? Oh yes...shut up!”

“The next generation!”

“Yes, they certainly know how to inspire the next generation…”

As a member of a professional engineering body, believe it or not, you are a role model for the next generation of scientists, engineers and technicians. The IET plays a key role in engineering education in the UK and internationally, accrediting over 1,000 undergraduate and postgraduate courses and supporting teachers and lecturers in engaging students with STEM subjects.

Many members see this as an opportunity to give something back to a profession within which they have enjoyed a long and productive career. This army of volunteers, with its combined knowledge and experience, is vital in inspiring the next generation.

Volunteering can take many forms which you can match to your individual skill set, whether that be through schools engagement, contributing to submissions to the UK Government, reviewing articles for publication, being an assessor, board or committee member, working within a community or considering awards and scholarships. The choice of volunteer activities is vast and allows you to play a part in shaping your profession.

Ben Clark, an IET Fellow and enterprise architect at CSC, says, “Volunteering is a great way to help make a difference. Both the STEM and mentoring programmes give you the opportunity to help shape and develop young talent to forge the future of engineering and technology.”

The desire of senior professionals to give something back to their institution is a common thread running across the professional bodies. Julia Brown is an IMechE Fellow and vice president – turbomachinery with Wood Group Gas Turbine Services.

She undertakes a number of hours’ voluntary work, explaining, “I mentor several graduate trainees through to their Chartership attainment, something that I’ve done for many years. I also go into schools, mainly primary, getting involved in running technical challenges such as KNEX and other school/industry link initiatives. Over recent years I’ve also got involved in the Big Bang exhibition, helping out to support such a brilliant initiative to develop our future engineers.”

Your time is valuable, but invest it wisely and it will pay dividends. You’re part of a global network of exceptional engineers and as a member, you’ll get industry recognition, career advancement, information, resources and lifelong support, with an opportunity to make a profound impact on that community yourself.

So, it’s not just a case of what has your professional institution ever done for you, but also, what can you do for them?!

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