Revised guide encourages engineering students to think more about ethics

The first major overhaul of a guide to ethical behaviour and decision-making for engineers has extended its scope to include students, trainees and apprentices.

The Statement of Ethical Principles published by the Engineering Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering was first released in 2005 and sets out four fundamental principles that all engineering professionals should aspire to follow in their working habits and relationships.

Principles set out in the document cover four areas: honesty and integrity; respect for life, law, the environment and public good; accuracy and rigour; and leadership and communication.

An updated version launched at a meeting in London this week incorporates changes such as the inclusion of the need to promote diversity and to respect alternative views. Topical issues such as privacy, cybersecurity and the environment have also been given greater prominence.

One of the most significant changes is that the definition of what constitutes an ‘engineering professional’ has been extended to include, “technicians, tradespeople, students, apprentices and trainees engaged in engineering”.

Philip Corp, who chaired the group responsible for reviewing the document, told a launch event in London that it had been “an interesting experience, and an enjoyable one”.

He hopes the results will encourage a more robust, pro-active approach in which engineers challenge what they believe are lapses in ethical standards. “It’s simple, generic and aimed at the widest audience,” he said, adding that, “The aim is to reach everyone, and catch them young.”

Engineering Council chair Professor Chris Atkin acknowledged that reaching students, apprentices and trainees would be challenging, as would engaging with the education community. “The profession needs to ensure that the principles are embedded at all stages of professional development for engineers and those technicians, tradespeople, students, apprentices and trainees engaged in engineering. It is equally important for anyone who manages or teaches engineers to be aware of these principles, even if they themselves are not an engineer.”

The statement is not a formal code of conduct, but it’s hoped professional engineering institutions licensed by the Engineering Council will embody its spirit in their own codes. The aim is that it will encourage all those covered to “start conversations” about the ethical dimension of their work.

The Royal Academy of Engineering’s president, Professor Dame Ann Dowling, reinforced the idea that ethics shouldn’t just be an issue for engineers at the highest levels of organisations. “A key aspect is that it is as relevant to new graduates as it is to the most senior practitioners who head up industry,” she said. “Engineering professionals work for the wellbeing and safety of our society so it is vital that they maintain and promote high ethical standards. They also have a responsibility to challenge unethical behaviour.”

The Statement of Ethical Principles for the Engineering Profession is available to download from www.engc.org.uk/professional-ethics and complements the Engineering Council’s other guidance leaflets on risk, sustainability, security and whistleblowing, which are all available at www.engc.org.uk/standards-guidance/guidance/.

As part of their efforts to engage with young people, the Royal Academy and Engineering Council are looking at the possibility of developing a smartphone app version they hope will help to encourage take-up by young people.

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