IStructE vs ICE
One of situations you will face in path to Chartership is deciding on going through IStructE vs ICE or one of many other notable Institutions (IMarEST, RINA, IMechE and the list goes on). The former two do however make up the bulk of all civil engineering related CEng/IEng registrations. Both institutions are enormously prestigious and there are certainly strong arguments for following either. For as long as these institutions remain separate, you will hear strong opinions for one or the other.
Here at the Structural Exam, we have a lot of experience in both institutions, and will try to paint a balanced picture for you.
Which should you apply for?
Your employer may favour one institution over another, or perhaps be indifferent, but for most people the following factors will almost certainly influence your decision:
- Assessment methods – do you prefer collecting a detailed portfolio over several years and letting that be the final assessment, or would you prefer to sit a 7-hour exam?
- The tasks you do in your job – Are you primarily managing other consultants/contractors, or doing the engineering calculations yourself? Would you feel confident in being tested in great detail about your conceptual design skills within the exam period?
- Your skill set – The competence levels at ICE are somewhat broader than IStructE's, with management, commercial and legal skills substantially higher.
- Which institutions your supervisors/mentors are registered – you will need to find members of the institution to back up your application. It will help if they know the application process very well too.
- The average time of the Initial Professional Development stage of each institution – going by experience with our friends and colleagues, people tend to sit the IStructE exam 1-2 years ahead of those going for ICE
- Costs and benefits of membership – This should only be a minor consideration at the early stages of your career.
What should not influence your decision is the pass rate. Though many may fear the 35% average success rate at IStructE's Chartered Member examination, with the appropriate preparation from resources such as The Structural Exam, you can skew the odds of success in your favour.
Most of the UK-based institutions follow the UK-SPEC guidelines provided by the Engineering Council, though ICE and IStructE notably modified/reworded them and put the same competences under the new headings of “Attributes” and “Core Objectives” respectively.
Both the IStructE and ICE require an extensive portfolio documentation, with a major milestone being a submission to the institution to verify that you have completed a list of competences to a minimum standard. The interesting part here is that if your employer has a “Company Approved Training Scheme” by the ICE, then this is also recognised by the IStructE through the “Accredited Training Scheme Route”.
Our opinion is that the detail and breadth required for ICE's portfolio stage is much more demanding than IStructE's. This is especially true when you come to doing the so-called “Quarterly Reports” where those following ICE typically have more appendices and manuscript annotations/calculations along the way compared to IStructE.
After you have submitted your portfolio to the relevant institution for review, you will be invited to an interview with a panel of assessors – typically two persons where one is a specialist in your field and the other is a generalist. You will present a project for 15 minutes and the remaining 60 minutes your assessors will ask in-depth questions to allow you to showcase your competence in the relevant areas. The onus is on the candidate to demonstrate competence, not the reviewers to get it out of you! Make sure you use the “are there any other questions?” period at the end to fill in anything else that has not been covered.
If you applied via the ICE, after your interview and on the same day you will be required to do the “Written Assignment” which is a 2 hour essay-based exam to test your ability to form opinions and write a persuasive piece of English prose. If you pass this, then congratulations – you will have become a Chartered Civil Engineer! (CEng MICE)
If you applied via the IStructE, after you your interview this will be the end of your review day, and you will need to wait a few weeks to know whether you passed. If you did, then it's onto Part 3.
Part 3 for the IStructE is a 7-hour design exam. The average pass rate is approximately 35% and it is often described as a full week's design work packed into one day. If you pass this, then congratulations – you will have become a Chartered Structural Engineer! (CEng MIStructE).
Lastly, if you are already a Chartered Member of one institution and would like to register for the other, then both have methods to recognise each other. If you became an IStructE member first, then you can apply directly to become a member of ICE through their Recognition of Engineering Council Registration route. (You will still be a MICE, but you cannot call yourself a “Chartered Civil Engineer” by law unless you have sat the ICE's Professional Interview). But if you registered with ICE first, the IStructE's Mutual Recognition Agreement means to become a Member of IStructE you will still need to take the 7-hour Chartered Member exam. There is no escaping that one sorry!
Key differences between ICE and IStructE
IStructE explicitly lays out an Ability level competence for materials. They recognise that nearly all candidates will specialise in one or two of steel/concrete/timber/masonry, but it is still require a more-than-basic proficiency in the rest.
Competence in materials is not specified by ICE in the same way as IStructE. There is an implication though a couple of its Attributes that you should be good at using materials, but it is perfectly possible and reasonable to become a Chartered Civil Engineer having only ever worked with one or two materials. Here is the wording from the relevant sub-Attributes.
1C – Maintain and extend a sound theoretical approach in enabling the introduction and exploitation of new and advancing technology.
As an example, a plausible scenario for having only ever worked with one material is someone working in the offshore industry spending his/her entire career to date building steel structures. The ICE will implicitly expect you to compensate for this by being extremely knowledgeable about your specialist materials, with evidence shown in your portfolio or your CPD records.
The greatest discrepancies between ICE and IStructE lie in the commercial/management type competences.
- Developing people to meet changing technical and managerial needs
- Comply with relevant codes of conduct
- Manage your own continuing professional development and assist others
Under the Attributes scheme, the ICE now requires Abilities across all skill areas. It is anticipated that your career-to-date may not make you an expert in certain sub-attributes (for example, law or contractual management), so it will be up to your reviewers to decide their relative importance in your field of work. Rest assured though if you are allowed to sit the review, the chances are the ICE probably thinks you are good enough already.
IStructE requires mostly Knowledge and Experience, with only an Appreciation of law and commercial/financial constraints. This is far below what ICE requires, and if you went into an ICE review with a full set of “Experience” level of commercial competences, you would be unlikely to pass the ICE review.
Broadly speaking, if your career to date has had a prolonged period (at least 2-3 years) of performing conceptual design, hand calculations, computer models, design code checking and construction, then you will probably find CEng registration via the IStructE relatively straightforward.
However, if you have been in a mostly managerial role or if you have not been doing calculations day-in day-out, then you are likely to fare better with the ICE.
There are of course exceptions to these generalisations, but given the focus of the competence requirements of each institution, it is not an unfair remark!