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Brave new world

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Imagine: the dustmen have been and collected the rubbish, the car has delivered the empties to the recycling point and the Christmas tree has been deposited at the local park for composting. We dust down the work clothes to face a new millennium.

Imagine that the new year is a million miles away from the one that has just gone.

Imagine the engineering profession is no longer an also-ran but ranks among the best for any youngster both in terms of career prospects and salaries. It is respected by government for its contribution to delivering growth and alleviating poverty and by society for managing a sustainable future. The courses that lead to this nirvana are highly prized and populated by the brightest students. They are renowned for their breadth of education and the demand for the students that graduate from them.

Imagine this is just imagination - or could it be real? The Engineering Council published its report Engineers for Britain just before Christmas. This is a digest of engineering statistics and worth reading along with Moving on and Working out, two parallel publications on graduate employment by DfEE. Read together, these publications, which are collated from Government research statistics and a series of industry sponsored initiatives, paint a picture that is quite different from the one we have grown up with.

Engineering as a degree is highly desirable, with better employment prospects than almost any other degree course. The salaries for graduates in engineering and technology top the league tables, with over 70% finding degree related employment. For young 30 year olds, average salaries now match those of accountants, and are only bettered by students who studied physics, maths, economics, law or dentistry. The last is so far ahead of the rest that it probably deserves a Government enquiry. Business and management, medicine and architecture lag well behind.

For chartered engineers, their average salary is over £44,000: a £9,000 increase since 1995. Further up the ladder, qualified engineers outnumber accountants as top executives among FTSE 100 companies.

But how are we to deliver the 21st century engineers? What is the relevant content of an engineering degree for this renaissance profession? What is the role of the Institution in delivering tomorrow?

The first thing to say is that we should not be complacent about these results. We constantly need to evolve the educational background of the profession, and develop a more eclectic view of what constitutes an engineering course. Parallel to this is the need to develop the description of what we consider a civil engineer to be, and what the ICE regards as core objectives for those going on to chartered or incorporated status.

The future is about the green electron, the hydrogen economy, and sustainability, with civil engineers embracing the whole of this culture. Our ability to contribute will depend on how far the profession is prepared to go in widening the definition of civil engineering. Perhaps many civil engineers of the future will have physics degrees.

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