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What to expect from UK-SPEC4

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Becoming professionally registered as an engineer or technician is an important milestone in any engineering career. Registration demonstrates that applicants have reached an internationally recognised standard of competence and have committed to maintaining their competence in the future. The standard for registration, which sets out the competence and commitment required, is published by the Engineering Council and is known as UK-SPEC. A revised fourth edition of UK-SPEC – UK-SPEC4 – will be implemented by 31 December 2021.

Being registered by the Engineering Council via a professional engineering institution enables successful applicants to use the internationally protected titles of Chartered Engineer (CEng), Incorporated Engineer (IEng) and Engineering Technician (EngTech). Registration provides recognition as a professional engineer or technician, improving career opportunities and salary prospects. Benefits for organisations that employ professionally registered engineers and technicians are many, and include possible mitigation of potential liabilities if an accident or incident occurs and a means to satisfy the requirements of quality management systems.

In order to gain the title of CEng, IEng, or EngTech, applicants must first join one of the 39 professional engineering institutions licensed by the Engineering Council to assess candidates. Examples of institutions covering the rail industry include the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), and Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). The list of licensed institutions also includes the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers (IRSE) and the Permanent Way Institution (PWI) who are dedicated to the rail industry.  

Summary of changes

The requirement standards have not changed in the fourth edition, but they have been redrafted to make the requirements more obvious, to reduce the duplication of information, and to reflect the way many companies now operate in a matrix reporting structure. In previous editions potential registrants were referred to as both “candidates” and “applicants”, but will now only be referred to as “applicants”.

The qualifications which provide the required level of knowledge and understanding in order to apply for professional registration are normally: for EngTech – a Level 3 qualification as part of an approved apprenticeship scheme; for IEng – an accredited Bachelors degree; and for CEng – an accredited integrated Masters degree or a combination of accredited Bachelors and Masters degrees.

Applicants who do not have the recognised qualifications will require an individual assessment of their qualifications and any other relevant learning such as: formal academic programmes; in-employment training; experiential and further learning; or passing an institution formal exam. Applicants may be also asked by their institution to write a technical report or attend a technical interview.

The two routes were previously referred to as “Standard Route” and “Individual Route” but in UK-SPEC4 the terms are replaced with “Recognised Qualifications” and “Individual Assessment” to convey that both routes are equal in status.

Previous editions of UK-SPEC alternated between the terms “Professional Engineering Institution”, “PEI”, “Licensed PEI”, and “Institution”. UK-SPEC4 now uses the term “Licensee” to provide consistency with the term used in the revised Engineering Council Bye-laws.

The comparison table of EngTech, IEng and CEng competences no longer contain examples of evidence, as the previous version was very difficult to read for people with visual impairment and incompatible with screen-readers. It was also difficult to compare across registration categories and there was undue repetition of information from elsewhere in the document. The comparison table now precedes the information on professional and ethical behaviour.

The Continuing Professional Development (CPD) section has been rewritten to include updated information on the CPD Code and sampling, and a link to the CPD policy statement is now included. The Guidance for Licensed Member Codes of Professional Conduct section has been shortened to remove all the information intended for Licensees, rather than for potential registrants. The Glossary has been extended to provide greater clarity on all the terms used in UK-SPEC.

The requirements are now illustrated in a way that helps less experienced applicants draw out their relevant experience and some sub-competences have been reworded; for example, C4 (CEng) from, “bring about continuous improvement through quality management” to, “bring about continuous improvement and promote best practice”.

The generic role description for CEng is revised and “accountability for project, finance and personnel management” is replaced with “responsibility for the financial and planning aspects of projects, sub-projects or tasks and leadership and development of other professional staff through management, mentoring or coaching”. The term “accountable” has been interpreted as having formal responsibility in an organisational context, e.g., a line manager or project manager; so, competence C has been changed to better reflect the actual level of competence required.

The change also makes it clear that the Standard can be met by applicants who are operating with significant responsibility in a matrix management structure, which many organisations now use. CEng C3 has also been changed from “lead teams and develop staff” to, “lead teams or technical specialisms” to better recognise technical specialists. The examples of evidence have also been strengthened to include examples that are more accessible to academic applicants and technical specialists.

Greater clarity between IEng and CEng

The requirements for IEng and CEng have been clarified, specifically differentiation between IEng and CEng, principally at competences A and B. For example, A2 (CEng) emphasises technical complexity and level of risk. There is closer alignment between the requirements for competence C, recognising that the management/leadership requirements are more similar than they are different.

There is reduced emphasis on technological innovation as the primary way to demonstrate the application of a high level of technical knowledge (CEng, A2). The definition of A2 has been broadened to emphasise complexity and level of risk: “developing technology solutions to unusual or challenging problems using their knowledge and understanding and/or dealing with complex technical issues or situations with significant levels of risk…”

Diversity and inclusion

There is greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion, which in the 3rd edition was only included in the requirements for EngTech (competence D2). This is now also included in IEng and CEng, as D3, “demonstrate personal and social skills and awareness of diversity and inclusion issues”. For consistency with other categories of registration “diversity and inclusion” is now split out into a new competence for EngTech, (D3).

Competence E5 “Ethics” has been reworded to help draw out applicants’ understanding of ethical issues, even if they have no clear-cut issue to describe. It now says “Understand the ethical issues that may arise in their role and carry out their responsibilities in an ethical manner”.

In the consultations during the drafting, several pieces of feedback were received questioning the extent to which minor deficiencies in sub-competences can be allowed, or whether all competences (A1-E5) must be met. The following wording has therefore been included:

“An Engineering Technician/Incorporated Engineer/Chartered Engineer must be able to demonstrate their competence in all of the areas listed, but the depth and extent of their experience and competence will vary with the nature and requirements of their role. They will demonstrate a level of competence and commitment in each area, (A1-E5), at a level which is consistent with their specific role. It is to be expected that they will have a higher level of competence in some areas than others and their role may provide limited experience in certain areas. However, they need to demonstrate an understanding of, and familiarity with, the key aspects of competence in those areas of limited experience as a minimum requirement, while demonstrating higher levels of competence in those areas which are critical to their role. Overall, they will demonstrate an appropriate balance of competences to perform their role at Engineering Technician/Incorporated Engineer/Chartered Engineer level effectively.”

Professional registration interview

Licenced institutions are required by the Engineering Council to interview all Chartered Engineer (CEng) and Incorporated Engineer (IEng) applicants for professional registration. The process for the interview has not changed in UK-SPEC4.

The interview will be conducted by two registered members of the institution, with at least one who will be broadly from the same engineering or technology discipline as the applicant. An observer from the Engineering Council or an assessor in training may occasionally be present at an interview.

The purpose of the interview is to confirm that applicants have demonstrated the overall level of competence in all the competence and commitment requirements as set out in UK-SPEC. The interviewers will generally use the applicant’s application and CV as the agenda for the interview and will encourage the applicant to talk about their experience, drawing out evidence of competence during the discussion. They will also provide the opportunity for applicants to expand on the information in their application and clarify any points. The interview will assess all the UK-SPEC competencies, which broadly cover: A) knowledge and understanding; B) design, development and solving engineering problems; C) responsibility, management and leadership; D) communication and interpersonal skills; and E) personal and professional commitment.

During the interview applicants should be prepared to explain the technical content of their work as the interviewers will probe specific competence areas. Applicants will not be expected to divulge material of a commercially sensitive nature, and the interviewers will at all times maintain integrity during the process. The interviewers will want to support applicants as best they can, and to identify examples of any activity the applicant has experienced to demonstrate the required standard of competency. The interviewers do not make the final decision on the award of professional registration, but they normally compile a report to another independent review group in the institution to make the final decision. It can therefore take a number of weeks after the interview before the result is communicated. 

The best way to prepare for the interview is for the applicant to review their application and decide which experiences best demonstrate the required range of competences. Even though most people work as members of a team, it is the applicant’s competence that is being assessed. So, applicants should avoid being over-modest and answering as “we” and they need to demonstrate their contribution and engineering competency.

Applicants should have an example of how they demonstrate professional and ethical behaviour ready for the interviewers. An example will be required for the interviewers to assess competence E5. There are four fundamental principles: a) accuracy and rigour; b) honesty and integrity; c) respect for life, law and the public good; and d) responsible leadership; listening and informing.

Paul Darlington CEng FIET FIRSE
Paul Darlington CEng FIET FIRSEhttp://therailengineer.com

Signalling and telecommunications, cyber security, level crossings

Paul Darlington joined British Rail as a trainee telecoms technician in September 1975. He became an instructor in telecommunications and moved to the telecoms project office in Birmingham, where he was involved in designing customer information systems and radio schemes. By the time of privatisation, he was a project engineer with BR Telecommunications Ltd, responsible for the implementation of telecommunication schemes included Merseyrail IECC resignalling.

With the inception of Railtrack, Paul moved to Manchester as the telecoms engineer for the North West. He was, for a time, the engineering manager responsible for coordinating all the multi-functional engineering disciplines in the North West Zone.

His next role was head of telecommunications for Network Rail in London, where the foundations for Network Rail Telecoms and the IP network now known as FTNx were put in place. He then moved back to Manchester as the signalling route asset manager for LNW North and led the control period 5 signalling renewals planning. He also continued as chair of the safety review panel for the national GSM-R programme.

After a 37-year career in the rail industry, Paul retired in October 2012 and, as well as writing for Rail Engineer, is the managing editor of IRSE News.


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