Beating a wider path to tackle the skills shortage

The Institution of Structural Engineers is transforming access to Chartered Membership. IStructE chief executive Martin Powell explains the changes and how they fit into a wider set of initiatives with which professional institutions are addressing fears of a skills shortage in UK engineering

In my position as Chief Executive of The Institution of Structural Engineers, I am lucky to meet a diverse range of highly-skilled professionals. It is a privilege indeed to engage with such a spread of talent, but I am also acutely aware of the issues with which the engineering profession continues to grapple. 

This year’s report from Engineering UK highlights the challenges facing the UK sector, placing particular emphasis on the lack of young people studying STEM subjects and working towards engineering careers. The report projects a large annual shortfall in supply leading up to 2022 and a continuing, stubborn gender imbalance in the profession – building on evidence in previous reports that the professions more widely could do a lot more to address issues surrounding social mobility.

Chartered membership as a professional engineer is predicated on an academic base at the MEng level, together with demonstrable evidence of “on the job” experiential learning tested by interview. Alone among the engineering institutions, The Institution of Structural Engineers also requires applicants to complete a famously rigorous, seven hour written examination - one of the toughest assessments in the world – reflecting the profound depth of knowledge that structural engineers must have as the guardians of public safety. 

The exam exceeds MEng level requirements, begging the question why (other than to be consistent with other institutions) we have insisted that BEng Honours graduates demonstrate Master’s level competence via a variety of Technical Report Routes (TRR) before allowing them to sit the exam. 

That is why we have elected to make our examination the ultimate assessment for Chartered Membership, removing TRR hurdles which might otherwise deter motivated and well educated young people from pursuing a career in structural engineering. 

It may not seem like a significant change, but in fact it will greatly simplify the career paths of numerous students, while maintaining the highest standard for the profession – since the rigour of the examination will not alter. We believe this will be good for both the Institution and the profession, as we provide more opportunity to talented young people, regardless of background or circumstance, and deliver more highly qualified professionals to industry.

Of course getting more young people into the profession is about much more than exams: that’s why we’re providing an expanded range of free learning resources for our Student Members, why we’re raising the profile of engineering through activities like The Structural Awards, and why we’re working with organisations like STEMNET to bring engineering alive for schoolchildren.


The wider engineering professional community commits millions of pounds each year, through licence registration fees, to support outreach activities co-ordinated through Engineering UK – which additionally secures substantial funding direct from industry. Pooling resources in this way, working towards a more comprehensive programme in which no school is left behind, is a mammoth but attainable ambition and something that requires the collaborative efforts of the entire professional engineering community.