Our responsibilities

I have been given the challenge to deliver a course on ‘Professional Responsibilities of the Engineer’, which has in turn forced me to reflect on how one can elicit the commitment of hundreds of future engineers to always take a considered course of action and make morally defensible decisions.

Most engineers will agree that what makes them (us) tick is the challenge of solving problems. Many will also openly say that our passion and aspiration is to use our skills to make a positive change to the world. The dilemma, however, is that what is good for some may not be so for others. What is a solution in one area, in one culture, in one industry could be a challenge and even a disaster in other.

Our relevant professional bodies such as the Institute of Mechanical Engineering, the Engineering Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering are in agreement about what it means to be a professional engineer; someone trained as such, who ensures their competence whilst acting with integrity and rigour and who puts the public good above all priorities, whilst listening and actively communicating relevant information to all stakeholders.

The guidelines otherwise known as codes of conduct help us follow ethical courses of action. But are these guidelines enough?

As I prepare to meet these hundreds of future engineers, who we’ve been training to be the best technically able, curious, creative and ambitious professionals. But who are also acutely aware of their value to society, I feel a pang of anxiety, I confess.

As an educator I am responsible to prepare these professional engineers to enter a complex world, where every decision, every action can and will bring about change. Will it be the right change? We should all hope so.

I will aim to equip each of them with the frameworks and tools that they can refer back to, in order to help them reach the best morally justifiable decisions. But the world is too complex to familiarise oneself with all possible courses of action.

The mere idea of ‘teaching’ thought models in a classroom suggests that students will be exposed to a limited number of set norms and constrain views. In her review of PREMag, Dr Bev Gibbs said: “This learning technique is an explicit attempt to disrupt that process and invite a wider conversation for students, most of whom will go on to be practitioners responsible of engineering the future.”

With this in mind, I ask you to please engage with the students’ conversations and help them with your constructive views, opinions and advice so that when they are in a position to make a decision in the future, they do so in the knowledge that they considered every possible option and chose the best course of action.

Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon

#PREatShef

 

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3 thoughts on “Our responsibilities

  1. I live at the bottom of a long stack of titles, Civil Engineer, Structural Engineer, Bridge Engineer, Masonry Bridge Engineer. My interest in professional responsibility is triggered by my apparent ability to see things others walk past. My challenge then is how far to press with trying to get something done. Just walking down the street things press in on your view that are a danger to the public but which no one wants to take responsibility for. Just occasionally I get a proper response, Like on a little suspension bridge in New Zealand and on an excavation in Exeter. On other occasions I am just fobbed off and have to decide how much energy to put in. A few years ago I came across a railway bridge that was dropping bricks on to a public footpath/cycleway. When I approached Network Rail I got a “passed on to the local engineer” message but nothing further. In the end I took it to the ORR and still ended up with an unsatisfactory result “no danger to the railway” was the response. Having invested 3 weeks of my life by that stage I had to give up.

    I am back on the case now with a much broader problem beginning with lack of understanding and carrying through to lack of care. Pursuing it at director level this time with no apparent success.

    In Exeter there is a row of old buildings that have been progressively denuded of any stabilising structure at ground floor level. The end ones are leaning out and starting to show cracks. That one went as far as the minister who claimed, wrongly, that councils have engineers who are responsible for these things and check them effectively. A look last week revealed the cracks getting worse. Should I pursue it again or simply tell my friends to avoid using Friernhay Street?

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    1. It seems as though you have done much more than your responsibility as a professional engineer to ensure the safety of civilians, and it is such a shame that authorities are not taking this consideration seriously. It may be worth contacting the local News? Maybe authorities will have to take action when pressured by the media.

      Please do keep us updated on the progress, and best of luck.

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  2. A little more pressure might force a reaction from the government/council. If we believe in something we should have the resistance to see it through to the end, so please do not give up just yet. My advice is to get some journalists in on the developments, let the larger public know the imminent risk they are facing. Just then you might find valuable supporting voices that can make a difference and prevent a disaster that is ‘hanging’ over Friernhay street from happening. Moreover this is not whistleblowing, I see it more as ‘Public enlighten’. I believe this is your responsibility as a professional Engineer.

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