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A bright future ahead

Comment

The sight of 200 young and enthusiastic civil engineers competing in last week's RedR Challenge at Civils 2002 underlined the huge pool of talent that we have under our noses in the profession.

The 50 teams managed to raise over £35,000 for RedR - an outstanding achievement. And when all the sponsorship cash is in this figure should climb.

The spirit amongst every team was fantastic throughout the day in this simulated water supply relief operation. Every team member learned a huge amount about themselves and their colleagues which will stand them in good stead when they start to tackle projects 'for real'.

It is doubtful that any other profession could stage such a challenge. The combination of mental and physical tests with the need to actually design and build something using a collection of seemingly random components requires talents that are probably unique to civil engineers.

But more importantly, the challenge called for teamwork.

The engineers battled with mental, physical and dexterity tests to earn enough cash to buy construction resources. Then they had to design and assemble their water transfer devices.

In the grand finale teams tested their design, ingenuity and assembly skills against the clock to see who could shift the most water. A highly competitive event - as you would no doubt expect from civil engineers - but also extremely good humoured, with deafening support as teams drove on colleagues to shift that last drop of water.

It is, of course, these qualities that make young civil engineers such hot property in the employment market. Every other profession, sector and industry appears to be seeking out just the kind of skills that our young professionals have in abundance.

As the ICE's new director general Tom Foulkes points out this week, the profession must get itself more closely aligned with the business of engineering if it is to move forward and continue to attract these talented individuals.

We must shift our thinking in the profession away from simply designing or constructing infrastructure towards offering services that really utilise all of the mental and practical ingenuity and teamwork skills demonstrated at last week's RedR Challenge.

The debates on training and pay at Civils 2002 last week highlighted the symptoms of our current failings. Yes there are some companies paying well, some companies taking training seriously. But the majority are still running their businesses hand to mouth so are unable to deliver a strategy that rewards and develops their staff.

Foulkes' military and business background should therefore be a welcome addition to Great George Street. He knows how exciting it is to be a young officer in the Army. He knows how early responsibility, combined with proper training and support, produces mature and effective team-leaders.

And he also knows the value of preparing and delivering a business driven strategy - 'cash-flow matters, profit is important, as is looking after your staff, ' he said this week.

The profession still has a huge number of great individually talented engineers. Foulkes' task will be to create the environment that bonds each of these individuals into our civil engineering team - at both company and professional level.

Antony Oliver is the editor of New Civil Engineer

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