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Bridging the gap

What first attracted you to civil engineering? Perhaps an image of something like a glamourous suspension bridge on the cover of an ICE careers brochure may come to mind.

But nowadays it is websites, rather than brochures, that are likely to determine whether today's teenagers do their bit to overcome the foretold civils skills shortage.

A new website was announced this week by the Severn Bridges Trust to provide an internet portal into bridge construction worldwide for people at schools, colleges and in their homes. The website is intended to become a source of information on bridges to visit, special events and education support material.

This prompted a quick trawl of what careers guidance and inspiration the budding civil engineer might find online.

The NCE Plus website is geared to people in the profession, rather than those wondering about it, though hopefully someone browsing the Knowledge Bank would soon come to appreciate what interesting things civil engineers get up to.

ICE has a students' section on its site, with plenty of useful information on what civil engineering is, how the industry is organised, what qualifications are needed, the history of bridges and roads and so on.

Even more entertaining is the Construction Industry Training Board's site which includes video clips, questions and answers with a range of people in the industry, and a couple of quizzes.

For example, there is a role playing game where you can discover what sort of a plasterer you would make.

As you would expect, emphasis is placed on craft jobs, though the site does set the full range of careers into perspective.

But what happens when someone looks for 'civil engineering' and 'career' on the internet? That particular combination gives 46,709 pages in Altavista, and only one of the top 10 was even vaguely relevant.

Narrowing it down by searching for 'guide' doesn't produce much better results.

Instead, it may be better to try a university, say Bristol. It proved easy to find the competition for schools about earthquake engineering - an area the civils department specialises in - and plenty of information about the profession and the course, including quotes from undergraduates and pictures of impressive design projects.

While it is often difficult for children to persuade firms to send them brochures, the web means that company information is available to all. Taking three consultants and three contractors pretty much at random, there is plenty of information about projects carried out by Arup, Gibb, High-Point Rendel, Balfour Beatty, Laing and Jackson.

Between them, these sites would give a pretty good idea of what is involved in being a civil engineer. Let's hope some of the would-be civil engineers out there get to find them.


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