Last Friday was a big day for Crossrail, beginning with a thumbs-up from the government’s spending watchdog and ending with the news that programme director Andy Mitchell is moving on to become chief executive of the Thames Tideway Tunnel delivery organisation.
And I think it was an even bigger day for the wider civil engineering industry, with both events huge positives for us.
First, to have the National Audit Office crawl all over a project like Crossrail and find barely a thing to criticise is pretty extraordinary stuff. It shows the project team is delivering. It gives confidence to the government that we as an industry can deliver.
Crossrail chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme told me this week that he felt we were at the tipping point, that moment when on time, on budget delivery becomes the expected norm. It’s hard to argue with him, with Crossrail now following hard on the construction success of London 2012.
People like Mitchell have been key, and for him to be moving on already - with the job barely half done - is also a big positive.
Firstly because it shows he is in demand - and he is in demand because of his success on Crossrail.
More than a few eyebrows were raised in May 2009 when Mitchell was poached from Network Rail’s on-off Thameslink programme to lead delivery of Crossrail. Could he lead a real, live major project? Clearly the answer was yes.
Let’s face it, just like Simon Kirby who last week chose to jump ship from Network Rail to lead High Speed 2, Mitchell must have had more than a few tempting offers, not least from the Middle East where programme managers are in great demand.
And that’s the second positive in his move - because, just like Kirby, he either doesn’t like sand much or he truly thinks the government’s much-hyped infrastructure pipeline is something to believe in.
And that’s the greatest positive of them all: two of the UK’s leading project bosses committing themselves to future UK projects in the space of two weeks. Well, it speaks volumes for the future of our industry. What an opportunity.
But with opportunity comes threat. And for us that threat is loud and clear - skill shortages. Royal Academy of Engineering figures show that the UK will need 87,000 new engineers a year over the next 10 years to meet demand - many of these civil engineers. And they just aren’t there. In fact, there are fewer engineers actively working in the profession than at any time in recent history and the number keeps falling.
I think this is down to our image, or lack of one. Which is why this week’s cover feature seeks to answer the question: why are civil engineers too boring for TV? Take a deep breath: it’s not going to make pleasant reading. But read it, and then act on it. Because like it or now, right now we need TV. We need celebrity.
It’s time to be famous.
- Mark Hansford is NCE’s interim editor