The route to CEng is not so difficult, but…
by Iain Macrae
When I grew up there were just two sorts of mechanical engineer, the one that worked on your car (often mistitled) and the professional one. That’s a little unfair to car mechanics, but I don’t mean to be. A mechanic is indeed a skilled person, but the term engineer is often attributed to people who don’t deserve it.
Before you throw the article aside with derision, hear me out. I, like many designers, feel the skills, experience and qualifications I hold have been hard earned, perhaps I also benefit from a little talent too, but like many I find lots of young talent snipping at my heels and claiming to be a lighting designer, or indeed a lighting engineer. Often I get asked why it is anyone can be called a lighting designer and all to often I get asked how anyone who works for a lighting manufacturer can ever claim to be a lighting designer at all. The world it seems is all about claim and counter claim and the rush to earn your stripes.
So, why this article and why get so hot and bothered about the route to becoming chartered as a lighting designer? Well for one, I think professional recognition is vital to our profession. How can you prove your reputation to clients? Either you show them a superb portfolio, or you gain some letters after your name and prove your competence on an ongoing basis.
The first method for me is actually a route to the second, but it lacks something. Whilst a portfolio demonstrates your creative side, perhaps your technical ability, even your ability to pull off large and complicated projects, it does lack some basics. Where does it demonstrate learning, pushing your boundaries, training and developing others, management ability, giving back to the community and so on? Honestly? You could demonstrate all these things via some form of portfolio, you could even add your school certificates and a diary of all the events you attended and you’d be no less worthy then a chartered professional perhaps. In fact, perhaps that’s my point. The route to CEng isn’t that difficult if you have done all these things. Of course you have to argue the semantics of whether you are an engineer or a designer, but in my mind there is very little difference, indeed one cannot function successfully unless you have some element of the skillsets that make both.
- a person who plans the look or workings of something prior to it being made, by preparing drawings or plans
|synonyms:||creator, deviser, producer, inventor, originator, planner, author, artificer, fabricator;|
- a person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or structures.
|synonyms:||designer, planner, builder, architect, producer, fabricator, developer, creator;|
Perhaps the definition suggests you can be and engineer who designs, but as a designer cannot be an engineer, but that’s just non-sense. The question should be, as a lighting designer can you become professionally recognised by a professional body? The answer is of course yes. In my case CIBSE was the chosen organisation, the SLL being an integral part of why CIBSE exists.
Your next worry of course would be about how easy the process is. I have to admit, I left this application for too many years as I worried that, even with a qualification in Mechanical Engineering, I would not be possible to be recognised for my lighting career.
Let’s put that one to bed. As CEng MCIBSE FSLL there are certain codes of practice I have to abide by. One of those is to tell clients openly where my expertise lies. If you find me claiming to be an experienced mechanical engineer (or mechanic for that matter) then that wouldn’t be professional. Lighting is my chosen career and my specialist area and that is why I achieved CEng.
Actually, it’s not that simple. The registration process for the Engineering Council checks a wide range of core competencies, most of them based on your working experience, they can be summarise:
- The theoretical knowledge to solve problems in new technologies and develop new analytical techniques
- Successful application of the knowledge to deliver innovative products and services and/or take technical responsibility for complex engineering systems
- Accountability for project, finance and personnel management and managing trade-offs between technical and socio-economic factors
- Skill sets necessary to develop other technical staff
- Effective interpersonal skills in communicating technical matters.
Not only does that sound a sensible skill set for any client to seek in a lighting designer, it also reminds me of many of the world’s top lighting designers.
So, how to apply. Well for one thing, the application is certainly easier than getting to the point of applying. If you think becoming CEng is easy, or should be, then forget it. If you can reasonably read through the Engineering Council competencies and find yourself saying yes to most of them, then start the application. If you find the answer to most is no, then simply be a specialist, be that mechanic, excellent at what you do but not the fully rounded professional at the top of the game, OR, focus in on filling the gaps in your experience. Did I just build my part up as a fully rounded pro? I hope not, as a professional I know all too well where I still need to learn, and there is a lifetime of that to go yet.
Once you’ve got over the basic hurdle of actually being experienced enough, dig out that CV, put it together with the portfolio, highlight places where you demonstrate each of the competencies required and then you’ve done the hard bit of applying. Just a few pages of forms to go about who you are. Once you sit down to it, well put it this way, it’s going to take less time than the experience did, perhaps a few hours work if you keep your training records and CV up to date, maybe a few days if you have to start the whole thing from scratch.
Of course you still have to stress about the professional interview! That dreaded hour long interview in front of your peers to see if you really are as good as you claim. Actually it’s a little bit friendlier than that. I’ve been to many worse customer meetings and been asked many more difficult questions. A short presentation to back up your application form, add in a few questions to check you really are who you claim and you really did achieve all you claim and it’s over. The panellists were knowledgeable and polite; the only tough bit came at the end… “No we can’t tell you if you passed!” was the answer.
Still want to be a professional, designer or engineer? Don’t worry about the title; I know some really great engineers and some equally great designers. Most of them have the competencies, the skill, the experience to make it easily through to CEng. Some need to decide that CEng is right for them, some need to wait for the title CDes or similar to become available, some need to lose their prejudice and recognise that professional recognition is good for them, for our customers and in the long term for lighting. For those not up to the mark that CEng sets, try IEng but remember there is time yet, experience takes time. Grab a glass of Rioja with me sometime and we can discuss how to get there. In the meantime, continue the journey and make the lighting profession just what it deserves to be, professional.
Iain Macrae is head of the global lighting applications management at Thorn Lighting and a former SLL president.