1.2 - Communication

Objective: Ability to demonstrate effective communication and interpersonal skills

I’ve never imagined that I might struggle on this requirement, in fact, I’d be surprised if many candidates slip on this. The guidance starts by saying that candidates should “demonstrate competence in effective communication and interpersonal skills using written, oral and visual media. I like to think I’m fairly proficient in writing, speaking and sketching which covers the main bases there.

The guidance goes on to list a plethora of ways a candidate should demonstrate their ability to communicate via:

1. IT links

2. Produce spreadsheets

3. Produce database documents

4. Develop an ability in writing letters, summaries and reports, both factual and interpretative.

5. Where appropriate develop drawing skills

6. Be able to produce drawings to illustrate concept appraisals, feasibility studies and initial design details.

7. Have the ability to prepare and deliver presentations, project précis or design concepts etc.

8. Have an appreciation of the skills of other professionals in the construction team and demonstrate an ability to work as an effective member of a team.

Looking at items 1, 2, and 3 I feel like the advice might be a little out of date. I don’t know many engineers who have to produce “database documents” and I’ve never even head of “IT links”. As it happens our estimating software is built off a database, but frankly I don’t think being able to use it has the least thing to do with communication. 

Similarly, letters have been mostly replaced with email which is one of the cornerstones of communication in modern engineering. I imagine if I were to take a look at the sheer amount of email I’ve written in the past decade I’d have some sort of Total Perspective Vortex moment and be struck down with inescapable horror at the amount of time I spend hammering at my keyboard in an attempt to keep the business moving. I must have written at least one or two decent ones that can go in the portfolio. I’ve had to write some factual and interpretative reports in the last few years as well, so I can certainly tick off that particular box.

I try to draw for pleasure in my spare time, and I hope it shows in my work. My sketches are mostly of connections, and sometimes of general construction details, but hopefully their colour and clarity of line work makes them stand out. I like them. Owing to the nature of the work of a fabricator I don’t have masses of sketches of concept appraisals, or feasibility studies; we’re usually a long way past those stages by the time we get hold of a project. I must say I do wonder where it would not be appropriate to develop drawing skills though…

With regards to delivering presentations - it has admittedly been a while since I physically stood up and delivered a formal presentation, but I’ve never shied away from standing up in a room and making myself heard, and by Grabthar’s Hammer I do so enjoy making a good slide deck. 

Of the last item on the list, I feel I’m particularly well placed. I have spent the vast majority of my career at a level where I am present and active in regular design team meetings giving me a good all round appreciation of the input of the other professionals. On top of that my Masters degree was cross discipline for the first two years, then specialised for the final two. The “selling point” of that particular degree was really to produce multi-disciplinary consultants, and whilst for me that emphatically did not happen (hence, well, this entire blog), it does give me a decent appreciation of the other engineering disciplines and how they fit in with construction. 

In summary, without sounding smug - I think this section is not going to present a worry to me.

1.1 Institution

Ok, so we’re off to a slow start. Attempting to move house has taken up a good deal of my usual writing time; weekends and evenings have been eaten by either viewing potential houses, or frantically scrubbing our house in preparation for someone else to come here and view it. I’ve stolen 45 minutes today to abscond to my favourite local pretentious cafe to try to get my thoughts in order.

Objective: Knowledge of the Institution and involvement in Institution affairs.

Where I am told that Knowledge actually constitutes Knowledge and Understanding of the subject and its application. Taking the guidance from the Mentors Handbook, the candidate should:

1. Demonstrate a knowledge of the structure and purpose of the Institution of Structural Engineers, together with an awareness of the Institution’s Code of Conduct.

2. Attend technical meetings and seminars (recommended 3 per year OR equivalent involvement in other professional Institution or relevant CPD activities)

3. List the involvement with a brief overview of all the activities and a brief commentary on two events

4. Have an appreciation of the institutions of other disciplines

Let’s see how I stack up.

Knowledge of the structure and purpose of the IStructE is an easy one. I went on a course provided by the Yorkshire Branch of the IStructE with the explicit objective of filling gaps in candidates’ knowledge that are required in the 13 Core Objectives that they may not naturally acquire in their careers.

There, I learned that the IStructE has a Dual Role (we were encouraged to shoehorn that in) as both a Learned Society and as a Qualifying Body. In plainer language the IStructE encourages and enables learning, professional development and research for the benefit of all and publishes original guidance of its own, whilst also acting as the entity which confers qualifications on Structural Engineers via its Professional Review and Examinations. It is the gatekeeper.

Anyone who reads The Structural Engineer will also be abundantly aware of the Code of Conduct, as the results of hearings are published within. In a nutshell, the Code of Conduct is the official list of rules we are bound by as professional engineers. I admit I have not read them front to back, but I suspect if I go by the watchwords of Apollo Flight Director Gene Kranz I’ll be ok. This is what he said the morning after the terrible Apollo 1 fire - these are words I think about a lot:

From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: "Tough and Competent." Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for.

Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect.

When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write "Tough and Competent" on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.

Gene Kranz, 30 January 1967

Ok, moving on - we now have to contend with the attendance of technical meetings and seminars (or similar approved...) at the approximate rate of 3 per year. I remember the last one I went to, it was about the restoration of Walmgate Bar in York, but I cannot even recall one before that. I need to get out there and do more. This is going to require sacrificing a little family time because more often than not the Yorkshire IStructE seminars are in Leeds and Sheffield. Leeds isn’t so tricky, but Sheffield’s a right old trek on a school night. Wondering aloud, maybe I could do webinars?

*frantic researching*

Oh this is good. Lectures at the London HQ are recorded and uploaded to the IStructE website. I can watch a bunch of these and makes notes for my portfolio. Hopefully there’ll be some that I can make some good sketches for too; I feel like doing some artwork after all this typing.

Lastly comes appreciation of the Institutions of other disciplines. I mean I’ve heard of most of them, and I assume they are broadly similar to the IStructE (but if what I’ve been told in the past is true most if not all have much lower barriers to entry). I did have a meeting with someone from the ICE whilst in my first job about becoming a member, but was immediately put off by his manner. I used the word “Institute” and the guy reacted by haughtily informing me that “women have Institutes, We have an Institution. In disgust, I threw all the admission forms in the bin straight after. Probably best not to mention that on the form.

Ok, I reckon I’ve got the bones of a final IPD form here. I’ll get to drafting that while writing another ramble about section 1.2, Communication.

IPD forms, according to the IStructE

Given that my personal writing style leans toward the ... er... informal, I’m turning to the advice of the very people who will judge my forms to get some general advice on how to put together the IPD forms via the IStructE Mentor Handbook. Some of the advice is stylistic, but much of it is advice on appropriate content. I suppose I’ll have make an effort to no longer lean on imaginary conversations with myself as a framing device and also my proclivity for parenthetical asides for the time being. Ah well.

There are three sections on general advice for IPD forms in the Mentor Handbook - let’s go through them.

Make it personal

This one is perfectly straightforward. The examiners are not in the least interested in what my company has done, they are interested in what I myself have done. I don’t think I’ll have a tendency to waffle about the achievements of my company, but I’ll have to be careful not to let myself colour the prose too much with ‘fabricator this’ and ‘fabricator that’. That’s what this site is for, not my IPD forms.

Make it positive

The advice given here is split into two threads in the Mentor’s handbook. The first is to not concentrate on weakness, but strength. Again, I don’t think I’ll be struggling with this and to me at least it seems obvious: I’m meant to be selling myself.

The second thread is more about precision with language, and as the designated Office Writing Pedant I think I’m actually particularly well suited to keeping my prose relevant and accurate. The examples given are twofold. First, remember to use the language of the requirements: if a section is written to demonstrate ability I must use words like able and ability when describing my ... abilities. Secondly, it advises against qualifiers and weasel words, like ‘somewhat experienced’ or ‘limited knowledge’. This is one of those things that sets me off anyway: to give you a window into my personality, I had to really strain not to send a specification back to a 3rd party for using the term ‘fairly unique’ with red pen in the margins.

(Not that I’m in any way perfect - I expect that I make every grammatical mistake that I decry at least once a day)

State how you have achieved the required standards

This is explicit instruction to get to the point and not waffle. Candidates have in the past been caught out by describing the standard they must achieve rather than laying out the reasons that show that they actually meet the required standard. I do like to prattle and chat, so I will have to make a concerted effort to keep myself on track and to explicitly blow my own trumpet rather than talk around the problem.

Enough writing about writing

This is my first day on my schedule for getting these forms done, and I write to you from a short respite in getting my house ready for a viewing. This post is somewhere around 25% procrastination, 25% preparation, 25% getting myself into the habit of writing quickly, and 25% getting into the habit of writing when I can squeeze it in. Gotta form those good habits folks; it’s going to be a rough 20 weeks.

Let’s smash this. Next job, first draft for form 1.1 - Institution (Required standard K - Knowledge).