The Institution of Mechanical Engineering (IMechE) is an independent professional engineering organisation that supports Mechanical Engineers across industries including railway, automotive, aerospace, manufacturing, energy, biomedical, and construction. The Institution was founded in 1847 by the railway pioneer George Stephenson and others. It is one of the oldest engineering organisations in the world.
The Institution awards Professional Registration status to Engineers and Technicians, whose knowledge, understanding, and competence gained in a mechanical engineering role, is demonstrated during a formal assessment. It supports activities in the UK and has a growing overseas membership, often with Engineers from countries who do not have a similar body or organisation within their country.
In addition, the IMechE can approve apprenticeships at no cost to the company, enabling an organisation to ensure their programme meets the requirements for apprentices to attain EngTech level professional registration, upon completion. Gaining this kind of accreditation enables those going through the scheme to access many resources and support from the IMechE as well as demonstrating the quality of an organisation’s apprenticeship programme.
Talent acquisition in the cement industry
The cement industry is mainly focused around the various cement plant that have been established within a country. Each country is at a different stage in the development cycle of the cement industry. Some countries may have over 100 years of experience of clinker and cement production and others may have far less. Having spent time in varied environments such as Iraq, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Mongolia, Azerbaijan, and Nigeria compared to the USA, Germany, UK, and Japan, each situation presents a different challenge for talent acquisition and can vary according the education system established in the country. This article looks at the challenges facing companies in the ‘developed’ world where the cement industry has often been active for over a 100 years, dating back to the days of the early bottle kilns and where there are established education systems within general society.
There are trends within the industry indicating that the number of cement plants operational within developed countries is declining. So what challenges does this present to the cement companies in attracting young people to the industry? Many of the old villages and towns where the cement plant were established have also changed socially due to the overall development of the town or village where the cement plant is located. Perhaps 60 − 100 years ago the cement plant was the main employer in the community, so senior management positions were considered high profile, but in modern times these smaller villages and towns may now serve as commuter locations for larger business centres with more diverse and very different employment possibilities.
Keeping interest in the industry
In the past, communities have built up around a cement plant and the cement plant has provided stable incomes for families over many generations. Some cement plants in developed countries regularly have three generations within a family that have been employed within the industry or at a particular cement plant. Initial introductions to opportunities within the industry in the early days would have been made via senior members of families to their children, nephews or nieces, or via friends, however it is unknown if this will continue. Are opportunities still available and how can STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) careers be made more attractive to young people in developed countries?
Well the general answer to this is that opportunities are still there in heavy engineering such as the cement industry, but trends would suggest the number is reducing. However, the counter argument to that, is that the industry also faces a skills gap issue in the future with many cement plants possessing an experienced work force that are nearing retirement. The challenges that many will face are skills retention, knowledge transfer, and attracting people to join the industry. So, is the industry still attractive and would those working in it still recommend the industry to future generations? When you ask those questions informally to people working in the industry in developed countries, the response can be varied. Some without hesitation will say ‘Yes’ because of the huge variety of engineering equipment involved within a cement industry, which provides people with a foundation of skills that are transferable to many industries, however others point out that the work can be dirty, uncomfortable, and unglamorous in comparison to other employment careers. Opportunities for employment within the cement industry are also diminishing due to the increasing use of technology.
So, apprenticeships and trainee engineer programmes for graduates would still appear to be out there, but it comes down to whether the job is suited to the individual. Generally, within the first day of being on a cement plant, somebody will know from their first look around if the environment and working community is for them. I was fortunate, that my father and grandfather were both engineers and so some of my earliest memories were from being in engineering plants and foundries, where I might be sat in a works office or workshop waiting for my Dad on a weekend if he had been on call for work. The personal characteristics in these environments that are important for engineers are; attention to detail, an inquisitive mind, creativity, disciplined, and being a problem solver. They were naturally fuelled at an early age in these environments, by this early introduction to the working world and the characters within it. Due to health and safety restrictions, this early access is becoming more restricted.
So how can companies and Senior Engineers encourage people to get involved with the industry? Those that truly enjoy the industry and camaraderie that can be forged and who have served and enjoyed a living from the industry always point to the variety of opportunities and technologies you can learn about. Perhaps this variety of knowledge and opportunity is not broadcast enough to the next generations? The other trend emerging is that, because the pool of talent in the industry is diminishing; talent can often quickly rise to the top for people with the necessary drive after an initial grounding and familiarisation in the industry.
There are those in the industry who see it as part of their responsibility to; give back to their local community, schools, and colleges, to promote and encourage the next generation of engineers so that ‘we’ all can keep the wheels of industry turning, and to innovate for the future. This type of responsibility is important to pass on to the next generations. However, there is also a growing concern in many developed countries that as the industry rationalises and the number of major corporations shrinks, the opportunities for engineers without a corporate headquarters of a major cement company in their country may struggle to rise to the top of an overseas company in these senior corporate headquarter positions.
As someone who has built a career in the industry that is wide and varied and helped guide many other apprentices, engineers and Senior Managers through their journeys over the years. The possibilities for building wide and varied careers that also adapt and suit external family developments are very possible with thought and consideration.
‘It is vital that the industry looks to highlight its professionalism and recognise the technical standards and levels of engineering expertise in plants.’ This will allow the industry to continuously compete and allow comparison to other engineering industries. Heavy industry has many opportunities to offer, but it suffers from not shouting about them in wider circles of life, with people involved in the industry ‘just getting on with things’ meaning the outside world has no understanding of the satisfaction careers in the industry can provide.
I became involved with the IMechE when I started working in the cement industry over 20 years ago. There were numerous Chartered Mechanical Engineers from a number of companies operating within the cement industry simultaneously. The last 10-15 years, however, has sadly seen a decline in membership, perhaps as a result of many foreign takeovers of UK cement companies. This has resulted in me being the only current ‘fellow status’ Mechanical Engineer left operating within the cement industry in the UK. ‘Fellow’ is the highest level of membership awarded by the institution, typically to professional engineers working in a senior role with significant autonomy and responsibility. I currently volunteer to encourage other engineers within heavy industry to get involved.
Due to my length of service and breadth of experiences in the industry and long-term involvement with the IMechE, I am able to help translate view points and foster understanding between the IMechE and cement companies, which I have found can be helpful. As one of the few British engineers working internationally as a specialist Mechanical Engineer within the industry, my career has allowed me to gain unique insights into the industry, working alongside a whole range of professions, including: lawyers, bankers, engineers, geologists, chemists, scientists, I.T specialists, and governmental organisations. It is my wish that young, up-and-coming Engineers will be given the opportunity to do the same.
In the future, I would like to see more engineers from within the cement industry and wider heavy industry sectors getting involved with the IMechE at all the different levels of membership. I am always happy to give my time to those people who are interested in the experiences that getting involved can bring to a company and individuals. It would also be great to hear from other accredited engineers interested in mentoring potential applicants, to help guide the next generation towards attaining their professional goals and to play a part in the ongoing story of mechanical engineering.
About the author
Kevin Rudd is Partner and Director at Independent Cement Consultants and is a registered Expert Witness.
Read the article online at: https://www.worldcement.com/special-reports/16012019/talent-acquisition-engineering-standards-and-learning/