NO GETAWAY car has been needed by ICE's Professional Development team as it spread the message of New Routes to Membership at roadshows across the country.
On the contrary, the much vaunted initiative to raise entry standards for members and create a new culture of associate members has been accepted as fact, said a delighted director of professional development Richard Larcombe.
'Standards And Routes To Registration 97 is now accepted as a fact of life,' said Larcombe, of a process which started in 1984 and was finally ratified by ICE Council in December 1997. 'With the first SARTOR 97 courses starting in September, evidence is increasing that the wisdom of raising entry standards is accepted. Employers consistently tell us that people coming into the profession are not what they want.'
But details of implementation were clearly left unanswered by the documentation sent out last autumn and questions were fired at the roadshow team. Supervising Civil Engineers (SCEs) wanted advice on how to remodel their training schemes, employers voiced doubts about the risks of taking on more Associate Members as opposed to Members - a process Larcombe admits that a lot of employers and clients don't understand - and graduates vented anxiety that their existing qualifications would not get them chartered. Reassurance was sought all round.
'The roadshows were something we couldn't afford not to do,' said Larcombe. 'We've now had 23 and there are five to go. The recent London roadshow attracted 250. By the time we finish we will have spoken to nearly 3000 of the people we most needed to get to.'
What arguably started as an exercise in tub thumping has evolved into something more sensitive and soothing to the frayed nerves of SCEs and graduates. Change was helped along by acrimony at the Glasgow roadshow when argument broke out about the future numbers of qualified engineers.
'The early roadshows were perhaps too aggressive. We were determined not to soften our message and consequently we sent signals which caused concern among delegates.
'They have definitely evolved into friendlier, more interactive affairs. We don't want people to say this is a whitewash. We have got better at giving members a message in a way that generates constructive responses,' said Larcombe.
The roadshow team has also managed to calm dissenting voices by presenting arguments to show that the new rules are at the behest of the industry. Larcombe cited the recent Institute of Employment Studies report (NCE 14 Jan) which claimed that current engineering graduates were not what employers wanted for a changing industry.
Larcombe supported his case with a graph showing 10 years of industry initiatives to encourage civil engineers to gain more breadth of knowledge - Whither Civil Engineering, SAID report, Latham, Egan and the Institution's own Future Framework Commission, which set up working groups to develop New Routes to Membership.
Chairman of the Training and Professional Review Panel Scott Steedman agreed: 'We have to respond to changes in working practices. More infrastructure is being maintained and there is more private finance leading to total solutions like Design and Build. In the work place, there is a bigger need to be part of a team and for graduates to start with embryonic management skills.'
Wider cultural trends also pointed towards changing the status quo, said Larcombe: 'In 1960, 5% of the population went to university, rising to 15% in 1980. Today, 40% go to university. No one can say that people are any more intelligent than they were in 1960 so we must have some way of distinguishing a good degree and that means higher entry standards and longer courses.'
No roadshow has been complete without Larcombe and his cohorts cheerleading for the Associate Member grade. Converting hearts and minds to the new grade in the absence of a sub chartered culture, is, Larcombe admits, the biggest challenge he faces. The aim is to reach many connected with civil engineering who would not previously have been able to become Members. They would be welcomed into the Institution having come through a new AMICE review that would not be very different in form from the old MICE review. Larcombe rounded off with an impassioned plea for members to pull together to raise the Associate Members above the current number of 4,200. Scott Steedman summed up the urgency of the situation: 'We as an institution have to start reflecting the balance of people working in the industry. If we don't, we won't have an institution.'