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Any change guv'nor?


Britain's transport system is the worst in Europe.

The government wanted to know where the UK stood and this week its Commission for Integrated Transport certainly made this clear (see News).

Roads, railways, buses and the Tube all need more investment than even the £180bn envisaged in the 10 year transport plan. Airports, notwithstanding Heathrow's Terminal 5, will require major development over the next decades to meet the travel demands of a modern society.

And who will be needed to do the work? Engineers, of course, in particular civil engineers.

The problem is that the education system is not producing enough of them. We already know that up to half of civils graduates hop into other professions and that employers are being obliged to focus on pay and promotion prospects just to hold the line.

But the trouble starts much earlier than that. School pupils are just not applying to study engineering. There is a 10% year on year decrease in applications to university engineering courses. If that is not reversed the country is going to face as big a problem over its shortage of engineers as it ever has over nurses, doctors or teachers.

Yet I would suggest this fall in numbers has little to do with pay or prospects. When crucial GCSE or A level choices are being made, most school children have never heard of engineering. And if they have, they do not know what it involves.

We could blame teachers, careers advisers or that old favourite the media for not highlighting the important role engineers play in the economy and development of countries around the world. And in many cases we probably should.

But as the Association of Consulting Engineers said this week at the launch of its 'Engineering the Future' campaign to get the government and others to take the shortfall in engineers seriously: 'Engineers are all but invisible; we must become better champions of our own profession.'

There is a way engineers can become visible to school children and their teachers, quickly, directly and potentially at every school in the country - become a school governor.

It is a fair bet that some of you are already, but a concerted drive to get engineers onto every school governing body would immediately bring the profession closer to the education system and raise awareness of what engineers actually do among teachers and pupils.

While governors cannot tell the teachers what to teach, they can make suggestions, offer help or advice and encourage the establishment of things such as engineering or industry clubs to help galvanise enthusiasm for careers other than accountancy or the media. Governors go to school events and meet the pupils. It is a chance for engineers to demonstrate personally the thrills, challenges and rewards of the profession.

Most schools are only too grateful to hear from potential governors with industry experience to be either co-opted members or to stand for election as parent governors. And if your profile at the school as a governor can encourage more schoolchildren to pursue a career in engineering and keep the country running, we will all be grateful.

Jackie Whitelaw is managing editor of NCE.

NCE would be delighted to hear from anyone who is or is thinking of becoming a school governor.

Email: jackie. whitelaw @construct. emap. com

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