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All aboard the transport train

With £180bn of new work on the horizon as a result of Government's 10 year transport plan, Jon Masters and Mike Walter report on what training graduate engineers should now be looking for.

Plans for expansion of the transport network over the next 10 years have underlined the importance of training for civil engineers. Boosted by £180bn of government funding, workloads are set to rise to levels last seen by the construction industry in the late 1980s. But civil engineers would appear to need a much wider range of skills.

Far more attention now has to be paid to the environmental impact of engineering decisions, for instance. And the importance of commercial skills and team working has risen significantly.

Sustainable engineering may present good career development prospects in the near future. Leading companies and organisations should be looking to take sustainability forward in the management of infrastructure maintenance and construction.

The work on offer is now more varied, with heavy and light rail projects featuring strongly in central and local government plans. Combined with a planned programme of road building and public transport improvements to create a more integrated and efficient network, it all points to increasing premiums placed on highly trained professionals.

Course providers are already reporting a fairly buoyant workload. Construction Study Centre chief executive Roger Harris says training related to new developments across the construction industry is gaining in popularity.

'We are seeing great interest in best value and best practice related courses, which feature speakers on the Movement for Innovation, partnering and client satisfaction, ' says Harris.

'Training on the JCT contractor design contracts and the New Engineering Contract is also popular as companies recognise the importance of keeping their engineers up to date on latest developments.'

Costain is one company hoping to benefit from a resurgence in transport infrastructure work.

Its group training manager Geoff Hughes says the company has kept up consistent levels of training and recruitment even when work was relatively slow during the 1990s.

'We have taken a long term view in anticipation of workload picking up and the reality is that things could now happen again very quickly. There is a shortage of graduates coming through, but this may benefit young engineers. Great opportunities are around the corner for us to give early responsibility and experience to people with the right attitude to training, and to fast track them to high places.'

'Our portfolio of courses has changed, although it still has the same core. Setting out and safety form the start of training for our engineers and from there management subjects and leadership skills are integrated into their training, and we encourage pursuit of membership of the professional institutions because this is still a very important part of professional development.'

Hughes says the value of having highly skilled engineers is becoming more apparent as clients are moving towards evaluating tenders with greater emphasis on quality rather than price. Health and safety and environmental management training is being given particular priority at Costain.

'The process of building a road is now more involved, with the need to enhance the environment as much as possible. Risk management courses are also part of our company policy and we will be pushing customer service and IT training in the near future, ' Hughes adds.

The Nottingham Trent University (NTU) has responded to new demands being placed on engineers by developing an MSc in sustainable engineering in the built environment. The course is being run in conjunction with NTU's industry partners, the Building Research Establishment and Nottingham City and County Councils, as a part time distance learning course starting in January 2001.

'The Government's sustainability agenda is running strongly in the local authority sector and graduate engineers are being asked to work in areas of which they have no specific engineering knowledge, ' says NTU's dean of construction and the environment Roger Hawkins.

'Contaminated land remediation, recycling, energy management, sustainable building design and environmental policy are typical of these specialist areas new to most civil engineering graduates. The course also contains a module in sustainable mobility, which will cover transportation policy and alternative modes of transport.

'Civil engineers can lead the way in furthering the changes under way in construction and develop a very satisfying and challenging career in the process, ' says Hawkins.

NTU also offers an MSc in European traffic and transportation as part of its postgraduate training programme and transport engineering and planning courses are being offered by many academic institutions including Newcastle University and Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh.

The suite of postgraduate courses at Newcastle includes transport engineering and operations, planning and policy, and transport and business management. Each can be covered full or part time over a period of up to five years and the programmes have recently been modified to enable individual modules to be studied as short courses.

According to lecturer in transport studies Neil Thorpe, numbers of applications for all options are at a relatively high and steady level. 'A buoyant industry is encouraging more graduate training and we anticipate a rise in numbers as people recognise that transport really is a growing area.

'The business management course has been established most recently in response to feedback from industry calling for more business acumen in transport engineering. Numbers attending this course have risen particularly well this year.'

Heriot Watt and Newcastle Universities together with Nottingham University - across town from NTU - are also leading centres of asphalt technology, which has developed a great deal over the last 10 years.

Newcastle's five day flexible pavements course, which it organises with the Asphalt Group of the Quarry Products Association, is designed to give a general overview of the whole topic and the latest developments in the sector.

Newcastle University lecturer in highway engineering Roger Bird explains: 'We are meeting a need within the construction industry by giving people from asphalt suppliers, local authorities, contractors and quarrying firms a broad sweep through the whole subject.'

Newcastle's flexible pavement course covers asphalt design, laying and possible problems. Recycling and European specifications are two of this year's 17 lecture subjects, all of which touch on key environmental issues, says Bird.

Heriot Watt University hosts the Advanced Pavement Technology Centre of Excellence, which is headed by senior lecturer in the university's department of civil and offshore engineering Derek Fordyce. The pavement technology centre does not provide courses, but according to Fordyce it brings training to companies and project teams through the medium of research projects.

'We are working with local authorities, contractors and client groups including the Scottish Executive to develop new technology in the process of completing contracts needing high performance innovative solutions, ' says Fordyce.

'This is a very good model for the way forward in furthering pavement design and construction. Research funding is provided through the contract and extensive front end development work reduces risk and enables us to produce trial specifications. These are incorporated for future work if the project is successful and the learning is ploughed back into industry.'

Rising demand

Southampton University's new research qualification is aimed at solving coastal protection issues as rising sea levels clash with coastal development.

Starting this month, the one year master of research (MRES) course on environmental engineering for the effects of sea level rise will give students a thorough background in developing coastal zone protection and management strategies. Assessing the impact of rising sea levels and identifying possible solutions to coastal erosion are two key elements of the qualification.

Course co-ordinator Dr David Rycroft said: 'There has been a good deal of research into identifying sea level rise but no-one has really tried to address the problem. This course is designed to prepare students to recognise the environmental impact of sea level rise and do something about it.'

Rycroft says current estimates indicate that global warming could cause a rise in sea levels of 0.5m in this country by the end of the century and engineers with the ability to protect the coastal environment in the best way possible are needed soon.

'Development of housing estates and industrial facilities close to the sea can put pressure on existing sea defences and concerns over protecting tourism at popular pleasure beaches is a pertinent issue, ' says Rycroft. 'For instance, the beach level at Bournemouth was raised by about 1m last year and now there are concerns about how the beach should be protected from the possibility of a very large storm.'

The MRES course combines taught elements of study with research and planning activities including data collection and analysis and the preparation of research proposals. Students can attend a number of modules such as wave and tidal theory, coastal geotechnics and applied sediment dynamics. Potential research topics range from design to accommodate sea level rise, to controlling the mobilisation of toxic compounds.

Students spend eight months of the course on industry placement with a consulting engineer working in coastal planning. A number of leading firms which sponsor the course have agreed to accept students for periods of work experience on which they can base their final dissertations.

Planning ahead

Transport engineers and students can develop their understanding of current practice by enrolling on either of two postgraduate courses, one at Oxford Brookes University, the other at University of Salford.

Government agenda and current practice in transport planning is closely analysed by students at Oxford Brooks University to give them a deeper understanding of what is needed to solve many of the country's transport problems.

The university's MSc in transport planning develops students' research skills and gives them a critical perspective on current planning issues.

The course can be studied full time for one year or part time over two years. Three compulsory units look at public transport planning, road traffic planning and contemporary issues in transport planning.

Course leader Bob Bixby says the content is reviewed regularly to keep it in line with current policy.

'Current government agenda such as the integration of transport networks is looked at very closely as is the management of different transport systems.'

A broadly similar transport course offered by the University of Salford is designed with the needs of students from different backgrounds in mind. Its transport engineering and planning course can be studied to either MSc or postgraduate diploma level and has a varied syllabus to allow students to study material which closely reflects their country's transport systems.

Course tutor Ralf Henson says: 'We give UK students a course which pays more attention to the environmental impact of transport, congestion and integrated transport.

Students from countries which are still developing their transport infrastructure will learn more skills which complement construction.'

Down to earth

Imperial College London will host a new three day course in soil mechanics for the first time this autumn. The course, Earthworks and embankments, will be held from 27-29 September and has been designed to provide students with an understanding of the problems associated with earthworks. It is open to geotechnical, field and design engineers with a thorough grasp of soil mechanics.

The course will include a look at shear strength and compressibility of granular and clay fills, problems associated with stiff clay foundations and the effects of climate on fill placing.

Case studies will supplement workshops and discussion periods and students who successfully complete the course will be awarded a certificate of attendance recognised by the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Seeking sustainable options

Champion of environmentally friendly construction Peter Guthrie has been appointed to the new chair of engineering for sustainable development at Cambridge University. The professorship means that Guthrie - environment director of consultant Scott Wilson - becomes a major force in sustainable development research.

Much of his time will now be spent determining and driving appropriate areas of study and raising funds to see the work through.

Guthrie's credentials made him the ideal candidate for both the university and the new chair's sponsors, the Royal Academy of Engineering, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and AEA Technology. A long time advocate of least impact environmental policies, especially in the field of transportation, he has been involved recently in waste minimisation studies. Since last October, Guthrie has also been visiting professor at Cambridge for engineering design for sustainable development.

'Lots of people are already looking into sustainability in their own fields. What I must ensure is that this chair does not duplicate work already being done well by the specialists, ' he says. 'I want to add to the value of what is being done overall and identify genuinely new areas of research.'

Intensive road

Practising highway engineers looking to expand their knowledge of current procedures, materials and technology can study for a diploma or MSc in highway management and engineering at the University of Birmingham.

Jan Fasci is Birmingham's postgraduate studies secretary at the School of Civil Engineering.

She says the course is offered on a one year, full time basis only.

'Students need a good degree and a commitment to 12 months of solid hard work. The course is very intensive and we warn all our students what they are letting themselves in for at the interview stage. We looked at other ways of teaching but it would be very difficult and drawn out for students to study the course part time.'

The course looks at the planning, design, construction and maintenance of highways in both developed and developing countries. There are six modules which include a look at highway design process, pavement design, project estimating and cost control, project appraisal and computer based technology specific to highways.

The taught syllabus is supported by an individual project and site visits to traffic management schemes and equipment manufacturers. As well as to masters level, elements of the course can be taken towards an individual's programme of continuing professional development.

Fasci says the university makes sure that the course content is kept up to date. 'A steering group of people from industry, the course director and lecturers looks at the content of the course to ensure it remains highly relevant to the needs of students and industry.'

Reclaiming skills

Additional government spending on housing and regeneration is likely to mean a more active market for consultants and engineers working in contaminated land assessment and remediation.

The Bolton Institute offers an MSc in environmental geotechnology and a short course in contaminated land reclamation which look closely at current best practice. Course lecturer Vic Over explains that a popular method of dealing with pockets of contaminated land is to treat it on site and keep it on site. 'Before the land is remediated, the whereabouts of heavy metals or organic compounds are identified.

These concentrated areas are known as 'hotspots' and can be treated locally or spread over a site to dilute them and reduce contaminants to within a safe level.'

Bolton's one year MSc course - which can also be studied as a postgraduate diploma - focuses on environmental law and management, surface and ground water pollution and waste disposal. Students develop skills to acquire relevant data through site and laboratory tests and the understanding to interpret the results.

Site visits such as an investigation of a brownfield site in North Wales are designed to support the content of the lectures. Students (pictured) practise techniques including hand augering for soil samples and carrying out soil leaching to test for heavy metals.

The short course in contaminated land lasts for 15 weeks and has been designed in part to give students the ability to plan and implement a soil, water and gas sampling programme for a contaminated land reclamation project.

Archiving results, carrying out physical investigation, storing and transporting and analysing samples are some of the skills students will learn.

In addition various reclamation methods are looked at, including insitu and exsitu bioremediation, soil flushing, thermal treatment and disposal by landfill.

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