Relevance in a Changing World

8th June 2016

On 24 May 2016 at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, Professor Jonathan Seville was inaugurated as IChemE President for 2016-17. The Executive Dean of Engineering at University of Surrey delivered his Presidential Address on the subject of relevance. Jonathan challenged us all to think: how will the Institution and the profession stay relevant in a world that is rapidly changing?

To start Jonathan commented on the fall in oil price, a crisis that has had significant impact on IChemE members and a number of sectors that chemical engineers operate in. Revealing statistics from a recent IChemE survey, he highlighted a high number of responses that indicate job cuts, wage freezes, and wage cuts have been a result of this price slump, saying: "our members are hurting as a result of this crisis."

Currently 24% of IChemE's members work in oil and gas exploration, and Jonathan made it clear that there is further need for diversity within IChemE's membership. He pledged to "work particularly hard to grow membership in areas like water, pharmaceuticals and food."

Although chemical engineering is called 'process engineering' Jonathan made the point that it isn't all about the process - it's also about the product. The way the product is used, the way the product interacts with the consumer and the attractiveness of the product are all hugely relevant to chemical engineering - but is enough being done to support this?

Using Unilever (a multinational consumer goods company with brands such as Surf, Lipton, Dove and Hellman's) as an example, Jonathan said: "Unilever is a challenge to IChemE. We know chemical engineering is hugely relevant to companies like Shell or BP, but is it the discipline of choice for Unilever?"

Looking at education, Jonathan made the point that we need chemical engineering to be much broader to make chemical engineering graduates stand out at companies like Unilever, Proctor and Gamble and GSK.

IChemE's centenary is now on the horizon. So what are Jonathan's plans as we approach our 100th birthday in 2022? As the new president Jonathan pledged to thoroughly review the strategic direction of the Institution, looking at ways to improve digitalisation, personalisation and globalisation for all members.

Throughout our ChemEngBlog we draw on the interesting, valuable and important outputs from chemical engineers. For us it's clear - Chemical Engineering Matters - it matters today and it will matter tomorrow. Join us in welcoming Jonathan Seville as our new President, to help communicate this message to more people, in more regions, and in more sectors all over the world.

See for yourself - you can watch Jonathan's Presidential Address below:

Get involved and tell us how you think chemical engineering will stay relevant in a changing world?