Structural Engineer’s passion for design leads from apprenticeship to chartership

Structural Engineer Dale Robinson

Dale Robinson (Structural Engineer, Rubb UK) has recently been elected to become a chartered member of the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE). The IStructE describes itself as “the world’s leading professional body for structural engineering. Only the best thinkers, designers, and innovators successfully meet our exacting entrance requirements. It’s a tough journey, but it has to be. Once accredited with membership, you will be recognised worldwide as a structural engineer working at the highest level of technical and professional expertise. For many, the Institution is the preferred route to the top.” Read Dale’s account of his journey right here on the Rubb UK Blog…

I was recently elected to become a chartered member of the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE). It’s been a long journey for me and I recall my initial ambition to become a chartered structural engineer was in 2005 while working for Rubb Buildings Ltd. I’d always had a passion for design, which only became greater during my engineering apprenticeship, prior to joining Rubb. While working at Rubb I was introduced to the wonderful and complex side of structural engineering.

The institution of Structural Engineers is believed to be the leading professional body dedicated to structural engineering. To gain chartership of the IStructE is a rigorous process and tests competence in all aspects of structural engineering.

It’s a four-stage process and you are required to meet the following criteria:

  • Satisfy the educational requirement. A degree generally of minimum MEng or MSc level which must be accredited by the IStructE
  • Complete the Institution’s Initial Professional Development, which consist of 13 core objectives based around all aspects of structural engineering along with a portfolio of work
  • Attend and pass a Professional Review Interview. You are expected to give a short presentation on some of your work which will be followed with an interview process which is based around your portfolio of work and core objectives
  • Attend and pass the seven hour Chartered Membership Examination

When I initially started employment at Rubb I was educated to HNC level (equivalent of A-levels). I immediately recognised the need to fill the gap in the educational requirements. I enrolled to do a part time BEng degree in civil engineering at Teesside University. This was a four-year part time course based on one day a week at university. I performed successfully on the course and graduated with first class honours.

During the course I was awarded the James Winship Jackson Award by the Cleveland Scientific Institution for outstanding performance on an undergraduate course. I was highly commended in the student of the year award by Constructing Excellence in the North East (CENE). In my final year I was presented with the Institution of Structural Engineers Student Prize for achievement in analysis and design.

Following completion of my civil engineering degree I progressed onto a full-time Master’s degree in structural engineering. This was a one year course based at the University of Leeds which I succeeded with distinction.

The Institute then sets a series of core objectives which you must satisfy to set standards to apply for your chartership. The only way to achieve the core objectives is through experience in the workplace and it is expected it will take a minimum of four years of full time employment. When your mentor is satisfied you are at the required standard you must demonstrate your experience through a portfolio of work showing clearly how you have achieved each objective, with examples. Submission of the portfolio is shortly followed by a professional review interview. You are required to attend an interview with at least two assessors (experienced IStructE members) for whom you give a short presentation, typically on an interesting past project you have worked on.

This is followed with a more traditional interview process where you will be asked a series of questions based around your experience and the core objectives. If you pass the professional review interview you then become eligible to sit the chartership exam. The exam is notorious for being extremely difficult which is reflected in its pass rate (approximately 35%). It’s a seven-hour exam which you need to fit a week’s worth of work into. Although structural design is a large part of an engineer’s daily activity it is only a small part of the examination. Problem solving, concept, letter writing, appraisal, environmental, programming and health and safety all form part of the questions. You really need to know your “stuff” do get through the exam.

After successfully passing my interview in December (2013) I pulled together a revision programme that I felt would suitably prepare me for the examination. I had planned to start this at the beginning of January, however I didn’t get underway until the start of February. This still gave me 10/11 weeks of preparation. I initially focused on pulling a file together which I would take into the exam. You are allowed to take as much information into the exam as possible, but trust me you don’t get time to look at it! It was useful for example calculations and the odd look up for something you’re not sure of, but the remaining 300 pages went unturned.

I then spent a few weeks looking over examiners comments and some example papers. This gave me a good idea of what the markers were looking for. The last five weeks leading to the exam I would do mock exams on the weekend. I initially started doing a Saturday morning, then progressed onto Saturday and Sunday mornings, eventually doing a full day Saturday. I don’t think I ever got a full mock exam finished in the allocated time, probably because you can’t comprehend the psychological pressure until you actually sit the exam.

You naturally come out of the exam drained and because you haven’t had time to reflect during the exam you start to replay it through your head straight away. You start to focus on what you think you’ve done wrong or could have done better. Needless to say the three-month wait for the result is excruciating. However, receiving the information I passed was fantastic news, and because of the low pass rate and the fact the majority of people do not pass first time, I felt it was even a greater achievement.

To become a chartered structural engineer is something I take great pride in and my employer and family share in this pride. This is not something that has been easy and has taken considerable effort, time and sacrifice. This will no doubt benefit Rubb for years to come and puts us in a strong position as ever in regards to design and development.

Now I have achieved this it will free up time to delve deeper into some ideas and innovations that I have thought about for some time and will hopefully develop some research. I don’t view achieving my chartership as the end of the journey; it’s just the end of an early chapter.

Dale Robinson

Structural Engineer / Design Manager

BEng Msc CEng MIStructE

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