Members have grounds for optimism, says IChemE CEO Jon Prichard
AS 2021 opens up, and the picture of our medium-term prospects starts to come into focus, many of us will still be suffering the impacts of the perfect storm and so perhaps not looking out beyond our immediate horizon. Classically, the storm has three fronts (Brexit, Covid-19, and the climate emergency), all of which have a global impact, and have between them contributed to the conditions for a level of uncertainty that has not been witnessed since WWII and are beyond the experience of today’s working population.
So what is there to be cheery about? As with any event, there will be winners and losers, both collectively and individually. However, these outcomes will vary significantly and will sit on a wide spectrum rather than being clustered in a binary fashion at either end. There are things that we can all do to influence our relative positioning. I therefore wanted to share a few thoughts with you, as to why I think there are grounds for optimism for IChemE members.
Society’s future prosperity is dependent on global trade. We would all like to see as much of this as possible being relatively frictionless, and whilst free trade can be secured within geographically-defined areas for specific sectors, it can also be lost, as Brexit has shown. The WTO provides a safety net for all nations though its rules-based approach, which has international standards as its underpinning cornerstone. As professional engineers, we are well used to working and complying with standards, and a number of us even have experience of developing them. Engineering was the first profession to embrace the development of standards with the first BSI-type committee meeting in London in 1901 to specify common standards for iron and steel products. In the 1970s, standards for processes also came forward. So, chemical engineers are well placed to make a key contribution to this changing world. The Covid-19 response has absolutely shown us the importance of understanding the applicable standards framework, whether this is securing the approval of vaccines, or the sterilisation of PPE.
As we look to mitigate the impacts of climate change and help society to adapt, then we will need to deliver solutions rapidly at scale in production centres across the globe. This will require a common language to ensure quality, compatibility and economies of scale. At the same time, we will see an increasing need and opportunity for assured competence, for base thresholds, advanced levels and also for periodic revalidation. IChemE, alongside our sister institutions, has a clear role to play in this process.
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