The PWI: a catalyst for rail industry improvement

Posted: 9 December 2015 | | No comments yet

The Permanent Way Institution (PWI) is the UK professional engineering institution for rail infrastructure engineers. At the heart of its recent strategic review was answering the question ‘What is the role of a professional engineering institution in the 21st century?’ PWI CEO, David Packer, explains more…

The background for our review was that the UK rail industry has seen significant change since privatisation in the late-1990s. Efficient rail transportation with a clear customer focus is now welcomed as a vital ingredient in the UK economy. As a result of this, we are seeing unprecedented levels of investment in metro and heavy rail combined with rapidly increasing passenger numbers.

Against this background our role is clear – to act as a catalyst for improvement in the industry. The diversity of our members, our inclusive nature and our independence as a respected professional body are key ingredients.

Given a clear purpose, how do we deliver this? Again, focus is vital. At the PWI’s core is the principle of excellent customer service. Membership of the PWI is a voluntary purchase for both individual and corporate members, so it must represent value to them. They must gain far more from their membership than its cash cost. When they do, they act as our best advocates to attract new members. That’s why, despite the demographic trends that put pressure on numbers, membership of the PWI is growing.

At the heart of the PWI is the sharing of knowledge. The PWI is an essential cross-industry link which complements the knowledge sharing that takes place in individual enterprises. Members are able to share knowledge in a range of ways according to their preferences. We have 17 branches covering the whole of the UK – each of which runs a series of lunchtime and evening lectures throughout the year. Our programme of technical seminars aimed at practising engineers attracts large audiences, both for the relevant technical content and for the opportunity to network across the industry on matters of common interest. We provide seminar services and benefits to our corporate members, enhancing their industry presence and developing links.

We have a good and growing online presence – essential to today’s engineers. To appeal and give value to our customers we must make information easily accessible. They are under extreme pressure to be productive, squeezing ever more into the working day. By using members’ stated preferences we are increasingly able to provide content direct to them, instead of relying on them to find it. This enables people to make better decisions faster – a true catalyst for improvement.

A further key to knowledge sharing is that which professional engineering qualifications bring about. Professional engineers have a duty to improve their own knowledge and to nurture the development of new engineers. In the UK this is regulated by the Engineering Council to ensure consistency of standards. The PWI is committed to recognising the professionalism of engineers in all areas of fixed rail infrastructure. We are now accepting applications for all grades of professional engineering registration; Engineering Technician, Incorporated Engineer and Chartered Engineer.

In the past there have not been many registered engineers with Engineering Technician or Incorporated Engineer status in the UK. The PWI’s view is that this doesn’t recognise the great contribution that these engineers make to the rail industry. They are the people that make things happen – they have the largest effect on the safe and effective delivery of rail infrastructure. However, they are always busy people so the PWI’s processes are rigorous but straightforward. Our initiative is strongly supported by the UK rail industry as a key element of the drive for outstanding performance. It will also have the long-term effect of increasing the profile and attractiveness of the rail industry to young people – showing it to be an exciting career that is challenging and rewarding. We are passionate about getting the very best people into the industry to be the engineers of the future.

The PWI is a 21st century professional engineering institution; customer-focussed and responsive to the needs of its members and industry, with a clear vision of its role in driving improvement. Using many – and always the best – ways to spread knowledge and professionalism, the PWI is flexible and fast-moving. Nothing else in the world is moving slowly, so we aren’t. Most importantly we are enthusiastic about the rail industry and committed to serving it – a force for good and a catalyst for improvement.

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