Measuring professional ethics in UK engineering

Engineering is a profession that generally evokes high levels of trust – which is indeed borne out in the 2022 Ipsos Veracity Index in which engineers came second only to nurses in the rankings.

However, with the sixth anniversary of the horrific Grenfell disaster last week, and high-profile fraud and corruption cases hitting the headlines over the past decade across mining, aerospace, transportation and defence, the profession is acutely aware of its duty to maintain high standards of conduct and combat wrongdoing. This is essential to retain licence to continue innovating and building the technology and infrastructure solutions the world relies upon.

This was the starting point for a project GoodCorporation undertook in 2022 with the Royal Academy of Engineering to review the state of ethical culture and practice in UK engineering. The review included a programme of research aimed at engineering firms, engineers and technicians, and professional bodies. It was designed to understand how ethical practice in UK engineering compares to society at large, and to provide insight into areas of ethical culture in engineering where there was room for improvement.

Our results found good ethical practice and culture in UK engineering, but with clear areas for improvement.

Selected findings:

  • Eighty percent of engineering respondents agree with the statement, I feel my organisation cares about its impact on the community and the environment, compared to 63% of UK workforce respondents. Eighty-four percent of engineering respondents agree, I am expected and I feel supported to do the right thing at work, compared to 73% of the UK workforce.
  • Roughly one-third of UK engineers and engineering technicians agree with the statement, I am asked to take shortcuts that I feel are unacceptable (35%) and the work I have to undertake makes me feel ethically compromised (33%). Forty-four percent also agreed, profitability is sometimes prioritised over fitness for purpose.
  • Many engineers and engineering technicians feel dissuaded from raising concerns in the workplace, with 36% of respondents agreeing with the statements, in my organisation, ‘being a team player’ means refraining from raising concerns or objections and the culture in my organisation discourages bad news.
  • Engineering professionals in larger companies have more support when it comes to ethics than those working in smaller firms. Some large organisations are having a positive effect on the supply chain by supporting suppliers to develop their ethical practices. However, there is equally the risk that SMEs – which comprise the majority of engineering firms in the UK – could fall behind and be excluded from supply chains for lack of evidence of an established ethics programme.

Based on our expertise in measuring and developing ethical business practice, our report put forward a series of recommendations for how the profession can address some of the gaps and learnings from the research.

The profession’s response:

In a webinar last week, hosted by the Academy, GoodCorporation presented its findings while the Academy, the Engineering Council and other panelists representing the profession had the opportunity to reflect and comment on the results. In addition, the UK engineering profession published a written response to the review. In doing so, it commits to working in a joined-up approach across the profession on the following:

  • Promoting the profession’s Statement of Ethical Principles, both within the community of engineers and technicians who are members of a professional engineering institution, as well as to the millions of individuals working in the field who have no involvement with a professional body
  • Creating better links between professional engineering institutions and employers across the UK on ethics
  • Mapping roles and responsibilities for the various stakeholders within UK engineering to ensure constructive collaboration and coordination on ethics and sharing of good practice 
  • Exploring how better to support SME engineering companies on ethics
  • Developing resources to support continuing professional development (CPD) on ethics for engineers and technicians and examine whether and how to implement a minimum ethics-related CPD requirement; and
  • Investigating the need for a prescribed body for whistleblowing in the sector.

Since 2017, GoodCorporation has surveyed ethical culture in the UK workplace to assess if and how workplace culture is changing. For this project, it extended that methodology to compare the UK workforce to the working UK engineer and engineering technician population.

To read the report in full, simply click on the button below to download your copy.

Download our report on Ethics in the engineering profession

For more information about GoodCorporation’s Measuring Ethical Culture methodology, contact us today.