So here at EngLancer we are always claiming to want to “re-engineer the way we engineer”. This got me thinking the other day though. Say we had the chance to start again. To knock it all down and decide how “we” as an industry wanted to work.
What would we do differently? What would work better than how we engineer/ design currently? Would we look at the ‘ways’ in which we work? Or would we, as ‘technical’ people consider the tools, the materials and processes we currently use to deliver projects and design in order to make the result more efficient, more effective or more economical?
Let’s consider the alternative option however. That is, we look into changing the ‘way’ in which we work collectively as a profession. I go to a lot of events where engineers complain about our ‘status’ in society. However, when asked what that status should be and how we can achieve it together, the silence is often deafening.
A lot of the complaint centres around the semantics of the term engineer and how it is used in everyday life. Yes the guy who fixes your fridge may call himself an engineer, but so what? I could call myself, for example, a footballer. However, if people haven’t heard of me, seen me play, if I don’t have any winners medals or haven’t played for the right clubs, they are unlikely to think I am much kop. Sadly they would of course be right in their critical view (I couldn’t hit a barn door). Society can of course use the same critical processes to assess the achievements of an ‘engineer’. Should we not therefore focus on what we can do, both individually and collectively, to improve what being an engineer means? Your qualifications, skills, ability, and past performance guarantee you your status as an ‘engineer’.
“Getting people to view engineering as a professional service rather than commodity” is another phrase I hear a lot. If we could work completely differently though, how would we change that? Will ruthlessly cutting fees to secure work change that perception in a client’s mind? Do we do it anyway? Can we complain therefore?
I also ask myself whether we currently do enough to support each other as companies? I was recently told of a successful London structural engineers withholding payment, for successfully delivered outsourced work, from another (smaller) engineering practice for nearly a year. Do unto others….and all that.
Do we share enough as an industry? I often write about the parallels between the software/web development sector and the engineering profession. I am constantly amazed at the amount of ‘open source’ knowledge, code and softwares that exist in ‘techie’ society compared to the excessive costs associated with software, knowledge banks and journals within our sector.
The other aspect that impressed me about the software development scene, is its collaborative nature. Small groups and companies, pooling resources, knowledge and expertise. Looking at ourselves critically I think we view knowledge as power. Taking the view of because we know how to do this piece of analysis we will win that project, or because I can use this software I’ll keep my job. Please excuse this sweeping critical statement, which I have used for dramatic effect. The premise of the blog was though that we can re-build our industry in anyway we chose so I am therefore choosing to paint on a very large canvas.
It was in fact my previously stated admiration of the tech industry that led us to start EngLancer (www.englancer.com) to see if we could use a platform (similar to those already successful in that sector) to be a vehicle for a change to our own industry. It allows firms to work collaboratively and to pool resources effectively to deliver larger scale or more technically demanding projects. The platform is effectively a meritocracy, allowing your organisation to grow and win projects or tasks based on your ability to deliver high quality work. It also protects engineering organisations from the catastrophic impacts of late or non payment as well as poor quality work. It won’t however, improve the engineer’s status in society. We will need to that ourselves.
Come and help us re-engineer the way we engineer at www.englancer.com