The Finniston Report (also known as ‘The Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Engineering Profession’ or by its title, ‘Engineering Our Future’) nearly changed how the engineering profession operated in the UK with regards to professional institutions.
Commissioned in 1979 by the then Labour government’s Department of Trade and Industry, the report was a reaction to the dissatisfaction felt by the engineering industry to the Council of Engineering Institutions (CEI).
Industrialist, Monty Finniston was tasked with canvassing opinion from 100 of Britain’s engineering firms as well as visiting Canada, Denmark, France, Japan, The Netherlands, Sweden, the United States, and West Germany to assess their approach to the profession. In the end, the committee’s 17 members only visited 33 UK engineering firms whose opinions were not included in the report as they were deemed confidential. However, the international investigations found that the status of engineers was higher in these countries than in the UK. Finniston’s findings also found that the state was involved in the registration of engineers in all of the international countries, unlike in the UK, where it was handled by private institutions.
Finniston’s remit also included a review of how well professional institutions and the CEI were meeting the needs of engineers and technicians, along with the role played by institutions in educating and regulating their members.
The report was also asked to consider whether the statutory regulation and licensing of engineers – as was the case in other nations – would be beneficial to the engineering industry in the UK.
The investigations were carried out in the light of concerns over a shortage of engineers in industry and a demographic decline in the number of 18-year-olds who could enter the profession in the early 1980s.
The outcome of the Finniston Report was of interest to The Welding Institute at the time as we sought affiliation with the CEI. In addition, The Institute was among the bodies that were asked to submit evidence and opinions to the Finniston Inquiry.
In October 1977 a working group was created to prepare the Institute’s evidence, as shown by the minutes from a Welding Institute Professional Board meeting on 26th October where it was decided to send, “factual information concerning its constitution and activities together with opinions on the various points covered by the Inquiry’s terms of reference.”
The earliest throughts from the Board included those of board member, Dr Nichols who, “said that he thought the advantages of limited registration and licensing greatly outweighed the disadvantages and the Professional Board agreed to recommend to Mr Gallagher’s Working Group to reply to this effect.”
However things were not entirely clear-cut as, “Mr Boyd said that a related problem was that the Technician Engineer and Technician Boards of the ERB, on which he was the Institute’s representative, were also being asked to make submissions to the Committee of Inquiry,” with meeting notes showing, “it appeared that the Technician Engineer Board was on the whole disenchanted with its experience of working in an organisation ultimately controlled by the CEI and would be recommending that the ERB be set up as a totally independent organisation with its own Royal Charter. However, it did not appear that the Technician Board would share this view and The Welding Institute could clearly not support two conflicting policies.”
While these conflicting views were considered, a Professional Member Survey was circulated to, “secure a picture of the way in which the classes of membership are distributed in respect of job function,” adding, “provision was made for comment on the objectives of the Finniston Inquiry as an alternative to the framing of specific questions or propositions. It was considered that comment so rendered could be given more weight than a ‘yes/no’ or ‘for/ against’ vote.”
As a result Members ranging from apprentices to Technology Fellows were invited to offer their opinions on the Finniston Inquiry. There was a good number of respondents to the request, with the findings offering a good snapshot of the thoughts and concerns of The Welding Institute’s Members at the time.
A February 1978 report collated the findings, determining that, “the strongest thread in the web of arguments submitted concerned the current lack of status for the industrial engineer, expressed in terms of salary (compared with overseas engineers, and with the non-engineering professions), significance of title and public esteem. This is held to affect the manufacturing sector in particular, spokesmen for which believe that their counterparts in public service or consultancy are more generously accommodated. There would be considerable support for the concept that engineers be rewarded commensurately with the wealth they create.”
The February 1978 report continued, “There is concern that whereas professionalism is equated with institution membership and is thus allied to academic attainment, the academic preparation of the engineer is inadequate for the demands of modern practice, especially in the field of welding technology. In this respect both the teaching syllabus and the quality of student intake were mentioned in the unfavourable sense.”
However, the report continued, “On the other hand the need for the Welding Institute to secure CEI affiliation is quite widely urged. The end result is generally seen as beneficial to the recognition of welding technology and the standing of Professional Members. The latter point was sharply defined by those working for employers who give credit for chartered status in their career structure. That this implies open acceptance of the associated academic level is much less certain; perhaps not all of the implications of affiliation are fully understood.”
Registration of engineers was also discussed in the findings, as the report noted, “There is considerable interest for the registration of engineers, most often mentioned in regard to public safety but, perhaps, also held as an additional means of establishing status. One comment made the critical point that it would be essential to define the technical reasons for each particular case for which registration was advocated, so that requisite knowledge could be stated.”
But this did not mean that the findings were unanimous, as the report revealed, “Another submission, however, argued eloquently against the setting up of registration/licensing as a government operation; seen to be doomed to bureaucratic muddle, injustice and unnecessary expense. There was more than a hint of awareness that individual subscriptions would be augmented by further outgoings, to add to the union subscription which Members were paying ‘because of the failure of institutions to uphold professional status.’ Nonetheless, institution control of registration would be looked for.”
There also seemed to be a sense of dislocation between higher management and welding engineers at the time, with the report showing, “Higher management appreciation of the work of the welding engineer drew some criticism, although possibly less than might have been expected. Those not in the direct line of management can feel a sense of isolation, but more general misgiving concerns the lack of encouragement for qualification. One comment, obviously based on broad knowledge, referred to a parallel situation in respect of welding technicians; it was suggested that few who had made the effort to obtain the City and Guilds 265 welding technicians certificate had been able to secure advancement to technician level.”
Finniston’s Inquiry had also asked for thoughts on recruitment, with The Welding Institute finding that, “Industrial difficulties with the quality of recruitment intake were, however, acknowledged. This was said to affect apprenticeships and entry to the design office, and retraining schemes were thought to be producing an unwelcome dilution of skill.”
The report concluded, “Finally, while the overall burden of comment supported the notion that institutions should be highly influential in the sphere of qualification and professional standards, the more radical view that these matters needed a new approach was also clearly expressed. This was linked with the suggestion that the terms of reference of the Finniston Committee were too restrictive.”
The thoughts of the membership were collected and submitted to Finniston’s Committee of Inquiry along with details of membership regulations, the 1976 annual report, details of training courses, and publications. A Professional Board meeting on 16 March 1978 saw Dr R D Johnston comment that he “felt that the Institute had put forward an extremely well presented submission, though it had to be remembered that it would be one of many to be considered by the Finniston Committee.”
The collection of views from The Welding Institute’s Members was not just of benefit to the Finniston Inquiry, as noted by Professional Board Chairman of the time, Mr FW Copleston, who believed that, “the Finniston Inquiry had provided more information and facts than had been available before,” adding, “It would be desirable to review the whole activity of the Institute in the light of this information and he suggested that senior officers be asked to prepare… documents concerning likely developments in education, training and membership over the next 5 years.”
The final report from the Finniston Inquiry was delivered seven months late (on 16 November 1979) due to the volume of evidence that had to be considered (and dissent among committee members), eventually being published by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in January 1980.
The final report actually recommended that the CEI be abolished and replaced by a new statutory Engineering Authority. This was deemed necessary by Finniston as the CEI had failed to promote engineering adequately or influence UK policy, as well lacking a central purpose for its members. Some CEI members felt that it was too slow to implement change as many decisions required the unanimous consent of all 16 members.
Finniston felt that the new Engineering Authority should assume the responsibility of regulating admission and membership from the individual institutions and that membership grades should be aligned to the educational level of members, corresponding to higher national certificate, bachelor’s degrees and master’s degree levels. Finniston also criticised the level of education offered by British universities when compared to those in Western Europe, recommending that specific engineering degrees were introduced (BEng and MEng) as a foundation for chartered status.
The submission of Finniston’s report was not the end of The Welding Institute’s involvement as we were invited to offer comments on the findings. A meeting was called on 31 January 1980 to “prepare the Institute’s comments on the report of the Finniston Committee” and a working group was set up to draw together the Institute’s comments for submission to the Department of Industry by 1 April 1980.
Despite later concerns (raised at the Conference of Branch Representatives on 5-6 June 1980) that, “there had been very little time for consultation in preparing the Institute’s submission to the Department of Industry,” the Institute’s comments were submitted to the Department of Industry as well as being passed to the CEI and various Members of Parliament.
A document presented at a Professional Board meeting on 27 March 1980 collected the thoughts of The Welding Institute in regard to Finniston’s report.
The Institute accepted the need for an alternative to the CEI with the creation of the Engineering Authority. However, concerns were expressed over the composition of the Authority, believing that, “the Authority should be the expression of the engineering profession and not of the Government.” It was also felt that, “the prime responsibility of the Authority must be to act as an ‘engine for change’ in order to secure a shift in attitudes towards engineering,” but that the “ultimate responsibility for setting standards for education and training and for accreditation” would “more appropriately, efficiently and economically be performed by existing institutions.” This view came from a belief that these aspects “can only be adequately judged by experts” from institutions.
The Welding Institute agreed with the idea of a statutory register but expressed “grave concern” over the idea of making registration independent of institution membership, stating that, “the recommendations with respect to registration will tend to have the effect of depriving the institutions of the means and authority to fulfil the responsibilities specified.” The Institute also argued that those listed on the ERB register should be transferred from the CEI to the Engineering Authority so as not to humiliate those engineering technicians who were currently registered and sow unnecessary division in the engineering workforce.
With regards to accreditation of engineering degree courses, The Institute believed that this should be carried out by the institutions “acting as agents for the Engineering Authority, rather than directly by the Authority itself.”
The Institute did support Finniston’s assertion for the continuing formation of engineers as developed by the Institute’s School of Welding Technology and School of Applied non-Destructive Testing, but raised concerns that “the structure of a first degree course does not take measure of the depth of specialist knowledge that is sometimes involved and brings into question the availability of teaching resources.”
In summary, The Institute accepted that institutions had a continuing role to play but had reservations over registration being “entirely independent of the institutions” as it was felt this would “weaken their authority and deplete their resources.” It was also felt that institutions should retain their role in the education, training and accreditation rather than simply advising the Engineering Authority. The Authority itself should assist the institutions without a “domineering or interfering attitude” that would “cause resentment which would be injurious to the Authority itself.”
The Welding Institute also stated that the Finniston Committee’s recommendations “tend to transfer too many of the proper functions of the institutions to the Engineering Authority,” yet felt that the Authority had an important role to play on promoting engineering as a career in schools and helping to persuade university engineering students that a career in manufacturing “provides job satisfaction fully comparable with that derived from a career in research or design.”
As Professional Board Chairman, Mr Copleston “believed that the Institute had forwarded a very positive and well-prepared contribution” to Finniston’s findings, it was now a matter of waiting for a final outcome.
This impacted the work of The Institute’s Policy Review Committee, especially given that the future of the CEI itself was now in question. The structure of the Institute’s Professional Board, the future role of the Institute and the training programme on offer were all forced to wait for the outcome of Finniston’s recommendations.
There was, however, still an air of discontent over some of Finniston’s assertions, with a Mr Newman commenting that “he was unable to accept the comment in Finniston that the weakness of the engineering industry was due to the incompetence of its engineers,” with a report noting that, “he considered that the fault lay with unsatisfactory conditions at work.”
Several draft charters were submitted and amended in relation to the Finniston Inquiry over the following months, with acting Chair of the Professional Board, Professor Budekin stating on 19 March 1981 that, “the existing Charter of the CEI could only be terminated with the consent of 75% of the existing 185,000 Chartered Engineers, hence the necessity for securing their consent to the new arrangements if a damaging confrontation were to be avoided.”
In the end, the Conservative government opted not to follow Finniston’s recommendations and instead retained the independence and self-regulating nature of institutions. Despite Finniston’s objections, it was also decided that the Engineering Council was established to oversee the profession under royal charter (rather than via parliamentary legislation as would have been the case with a statutory body).
The CEI also rejected Finniston’s findings and instead recommended that three new bodies were established; one for register engineers, one to promote the profession and change the national attitude to engineering, and one to act as a voice to influence national policy towards the profession.
Of the institutions that were part of the CEI, some supported Finniston’s report and others rejected it, opting for continued self-regulation.
Despite the original rejection of Finniston’s recommendations, some of the ideas outlined in the report did end up coming into being.
The government replaced the CEI with the Engineering Council that still operates today and the Engineering Council instigated common record-keeping systems for continuing professional development (CPD) for engineering institutions, bringing the profession in line with accountants, town planners and surveyors who were, at the time, the only other professions to require the formal recording of CPD.
Finniston’s recommendation to implement schemes to increase the number of engineering and science students as well as to attract more women and young people to the profession were realised, including with the 1984 ‘Women into Science and Engineering (WISE)’ campaign. This work has continued over the following decades with a survey in 2000 showing that 72% of respondents rated engineering or science as a good career choice for women, compared to just 56% at the time of Finniston’s report.
Chartered engineer status was restricted by the Engineering Council in 1992, so only applicants with BEng or MEng degrees were accepted. At the same time the industry has become more accessible and is now seen as more desirable than at the time of Finniston’s report, with salaries increasing in some sectors.
Perhaps most tellingly of all, the Engineering Council’s Hamilton Report, released in 2000, found that Finniston’s report had been unfairly labelled as being dirigiste (whereby the state plays an overly directive role that is contrary to its merely regulatory role). In the end, Sir James Hamilton’s report decided that Finniston had actually recommended very little legislative control over the engineering profession. However, Finniston’s report marked a monumental time for the engineering profession and the role of Institutions.
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