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A value judgement

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Be very clear about one thing - if you are a professional engineer in the UK right now you have immense value.

As NCE's research shows this week - and despite the recent upturn in the numbers entering the profession - the construction industry is reporting a chronic shortage of engineers.

Without question we are in a very exciting period. Over the next ten years there is a hefty chunk of infrastructure work planned - the Olympics, Crossrail, the UK railway network, Thames Gateway - and a huge number of serious and challenging issues for engineers to resolve - think energy, waste, transport, water supply.

And the boom is not just in the UK. Look around the world and the picture is very rosy for the UK profession. From the multi billion dollar investments in the Middle East to the development of eastern Europe and the emergence of China, UK civil engineers are taking a lead.

So there are plenty of opportunities. But just how this value manifests itself for individual engineers - or translates into the all important fi nancial reward - is less clear.

Certainly we are seeing a period of underlying salary infl ation across the industry, but most civil engineers would, I am quite sure, still place themselves in the 'underpaid, over-worked and under-valued' category.

Then again, so would most of the journalists I know.

Fortunately for civil engineering bosses and magazine publishers, the whole concept of value and reward is highly subjective - and market dependent.

Whether you are a civil engineer or a journalist, the acid test of your value in terms of salary will always be what someone is prepared to pay you.

And as I have just been stressing to our band of NCE journalists whose skills were touted on the market this week, a broad brush comparison between similar roles, locations and skills is one thing, but to really ramp your salary, only a fi rm job offer will confirm your worth.

Besides, as every 'underpaid, overworked and undervalued' engineer will know, the concept of value runs far deeper than a snapshot of what individual engineers earn. As part of a rapidly growing £100bn plus a year business, we all play a massive role in underpinning the UK's economy.

By the time you read this article we should know more about Chancellor Gordon Brown's budget and in particular his prebudget promises to support UK creative industries.

One promise was reform of UK Trade & Investment, the Department of Trade & Industry division charged with promoting UK industry abroad. Pre-budget indications are that he favours creating a more aggressive vehicle to sell the UK's skills and economy by actively supporting British innovation and creativity abroad.

This must be good news for the UK construction industry. Our engineering design and construction professionals already have a great reputation overseas and any increase in government assistance to help build contacts and win work abroad is welcome.

Another promise was to boost research and development funding available to schools an universities to help drive innovation in science and technology.

What we are talking about is tangible, government-backed affi mation of the value of the UK's engineering professionals as global leaders in science, design and creativity.

So where does all this leave the average civil engineer? Highly valuable and in a very strong position, certainly. But as always it is up to you to convert this advantage - to convert your value into tangible reward.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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