Personal development planning for engineering
Personal development planning for engineering

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Personal development planning for engineering

2.1 Your skills and competences

You will now have the chance to explore your range of skills and competences with reference to a specific professional engineering standard. However, before you get started on this I would like you to listen to the second part of the interview with Chi Onwurah (Audio 4), in which she discusses what she believes makes a good engineer.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Interview with Chi Onwurah (part two)
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Transcript: Audio 4 Interview with Chi Onwurah (part two)

Chi Onwurah
I think you've got to start with the desire to solve problems. And I think, you know, we've talked to or listened to engineers … a lot of them, they're always trying to figure out the way things work as children, so you've got to have that desire and that interest to make things work. I think that's really what engineers do – they make things work. But in addition to that, then, or as part of that, you need a lot of persistence, because things don't work for an awful long time before they actually do work, often. And you do need also a logical kind of mind that rationally goes through the debugging stage, because a lot of engineering in my experience is understanding what the problem is and then looking at all the different types of solutions there might be, constrained by the environment or the budget or the users or whatever. So you do need a logical approach as well.
I think to be a good, or even a great, engineer you don't need to be a fantastic communicator because engineering is about making things work – it's not about talking about making them work. But having said that, what the engineering profession lacks is effective communications. And I … my engineering body is the Institute of Engineering and Technology, the IET, and I do say to them quite regularly – and they say they're changing it – but that we need stronger voices for engineering. Because if people don't understand what we do, then firstly we won't get as many engineers as we need, but also we won't get the sort of funding and the sort of research that we need in order for the UK to be a leading engineering country. And I would hope, and I do understand it's the case, that most engineering degrees or apprenticeships include some kind of module around communications and engaging with society, and science and engineering in society as well.
I think engineers are absolutely fundamental in society, and when people ask me why I went from engineering to politics I say, you know, both engineers and politics are the key drivers of progress. Obviously I love science, but it only actually makes a difference to people's lives when it gets to be engineering, generally. Because, you know, to make an impact on people's lives you need to take the science and adapt it and make it usable or affordable or whatever in a way that people will engage with and interact, and that's what makes it part of the progress in society. So the area that I'm familiar with, telecommunications, a lot of the basic science for that was done decades and decades ago, you know, radio waves in the 20s and silicon chips, all that, but it was bringing it together in a way that people could use and which was affordable – and that was down to engineers. And that is what's responsible for the internet and the huge social changes that the internet's bringing.
Deciding to study engineering was the best decision I ever took, and having that basis and that background has helped me achieve most of, if not all of, my ambitions, both in science and engineering but also as a politician. And so I think that engineering is in good shape, in as much as it's making a great contribution to society, but it needs more champions and it needs more and brighter people taking it up – so I hope The Open University is making a contribution towards that.
End transcript: Audio 4 Interview with Chi Onwurah (part two)
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Audio 4 Interview with Chi Onwurah (part two)
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Chi again makes some very useful points, but a lot of them are purely anecdotal. This is often a problem – you know where you want to be, but who do you trust with regard to how you get there? One invaluable source of information is any occupational or professional standard that has been agreed for your intended field. When it comes to engineering, the specification for the educational and professional requirements of UK engineers is laid out in the United Kingdom Standard for Professional Engineering Competence, widely known as UK-SPEC. This standard is the responsibility of the Engineering Council.

Occupational or professional standards such as UK-SPEC are detailed written statements about the level and range of skills and knowledge that you are expected to demonstrate as you carry out your work. They prescribe acceptable levels of performance and, if you work to such standards, you can certainly use them as a benchmark for your skills, knowledge and experience. Benchmarking, in this context, means comparing the skills, knowledge and experience you currently possess with sets of standards that are relevant to your area of work. You can then begin to assess how 'competent' you are (where competence simply refers to your ability to carry out tasks to the required standard).

UK-SPEC was drawn up by engineering employers, educators and professional engineering institutions. It has been in effect since 2004, when it replaced a previous Engineering Council specification called SARTOR (standing for 'Standards and Routes to Registration'). If, at any point in the past, you worked towards registration under SARTOR then an application will now be considered under UK-SPEC, which does not impose any extra requirements on applicants.

The next activity is intended to start you thinking about how your skills and competences compare to those required by UK-SPEC. This is a useful activity even if you don't intend to seek professional membership, or for that matter even if you already have professional membership, because the competences will still be relevant to developing any career in engineering.

Activity 5

Aim of this activity:

  • to examine where you fit within the context of UK-SPEC.

Download a copy of UK-SPEC from the Engineering Council website.

  • UK-SPEC [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Before you can start benchmarking, you need to decide which of the three grades of professional membership you wish to use for your assessment. If you have already qualified for one grade, you might like to look at a different one. To that end, read the summary statement at the beginning of the description for each grade of membership: Engineering Technician (EngTech), Incorporated Engineer (IEng) and Chartered Engineer (CEng). Then look at the section headed 'Education' near the end of the description for each grade. Select the grade that best reflects the standard towards which you feel you are currently working.

If you are already working in engineering with a fair bit of leadership experience, you may well decide to go for CEng; however, in many cases you will be best off choosing EngTech or IEng.

Once you have chosen an appropriate grade, look at the five 'Competence and Commitment' standards under the grade description (labelled A to E). Try to think about how you might demonstrate that you have achieved each competence or commitment through a specific activity. Consider in particular any areas that you don't yet meet, and think about how this might be addressed in the future. At this stage of your education, don't be surprised if you fall short on a lot of the aspects. Record the results of your benchmarking using the following headings in your learning log.

  • Chosen professional engineering grade
  • My justification for choosing this grade
  • After comparing what I can do with UK-SPEC, are there any key areas that I seem to be falling short in? (Refer to specific 'Competence and Commitment' standards given in the document.)
  • How can I address these gaps in knowledge, skills and experience? (Use the examples given in UK-SPEC for guidance and consider referencing future study you intend to undertake − perhaps consider some OU courses that might be of benefit.)
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