A continuing emphasis on management skills is apparent in the range of both short and longer term MSc courses being offered to the industry. Adrian Greeman reports.
Graduates who have developed some experience in the industry find that technical knowledge is not sufficient as they move up the ladder and are looking for the management skills which become more vital as they are less "hands on" in the work they do.
Demand from early mid career engineers in their late 20s and early 30s is particularly strong for courses that allow them to grapple with more abstract and organisational tasks, to communicate and negotiate and to handle contract and financial issues alongside engineering.
But equally the demand for engineers to move straight into work from university has meant that they do not have time – and very often cannot afford – further qualifications immediate after graduating.
These factors are driving a continuing demand for part-time and distance learning courses Considerable demand for post-graduate courses continues to be taken up by overseas demand for places, partly because the technology of distance learning and overseas training centres allows for this, and because of shifting economic in education.
Demand from rising economies is high while the cost of courses is deterring many UK students.
Demand is booming for short courses in engineering, reports the specialist training agency Symmons Madge.
The firm was set up by two experienced civil engineers to offer one, two and three day courses in civil engineering and construction.
General and specialist subjects are covered such as new standards emerging from Europe, or aspects of contract law and management.
But these are now supplemented by a wide range of courses to cover nearly 300 professional subjects in environment, rail, transport, design, structural engineering, rail, geotechnical subjects and highways.
"A lot more clients want a wide spectrum of choices," says Peter Symmons, one of the two partners.
Latest topics includes safety, and presentational skills. Waste management is currently in demand.
Courses are largely aimed at qualifying civil engineers working towards full professional status and looking for training points.
But there is also a significant amount of continuing professional education demand with a number of courses for senior managers such as time management, leadership and organisation management.
Symmons Madge takes up training issues on request for companies and will tailor courses to specific company needs.
The firm will also develop particular courses, teaching them in-house where a firm is large enough.
The company will organise all the training for them "which is increasingly valuable at a point when demand is buoyant but there is a graduate shortfall and a skills shortage remaining," says Simmons.
"They are so busy they are pleased for us to take on the administration."
"But often companies want to spread the training so that they have other staff still in work," he adds. "Or they are not large enough for in-house.
The firm developed so-called "training clubs" for these clients he explains, with a programme of courses running at particular centres located around the country.
These are created after consultation with potential clients to try and ensure they match demand as much as possible. Centres began in Bristol and now cover much of the UK. "We also have a new one coming in Dublin" says Symmons.
The firm has also moved into training supervision, and is approved by ICE to offer companies a service to act as Supervising Civil Engineer.
This relieves overstretched local staff from additional work and the need to keep up with routes to membership issues.
The Construction Study Centre has been offering short courses since 1990 and is preparing a programme of 100 different courses for the coming summer season says partner Roger Harris. These are provided both in-house for large and small companies using expert speakers in the field.
For the autumn/winter season he says a range of 160 public courses will be available. Choice of the programme is being modified in the light of possible coming recession he says. Key issues in demand for training focus around health and safety questions, and on the growing use of the NEC3 form of contract. Management of both JCT and NEC forms of contract is important.
Other new topics for courses include designing and upgrading for safety – vandalism, burglary, terrorism and disaster; achieving 'sustainable homes' and energy conscious buildings; and the "golden rules" for construction contracts correspondence, forms & administration. Another important area is effective communication for construction and property professionals, producing reports, documents and letters and honing verbal skills.
An unusual cross between short courses and a degree is run by Leeds University's School of Civil Engineering aimed at giving working engineers a knowledge base in law and contract procedure.
It is aimed at consultants and contractors who must deal with local authorities in this capacity.
The course is run in the evenings as a programme of 26 lectures, on Monday nights at the University, supplemented with handouts and some group sessions. Those attending the whole course qualify for up to 10 days equivalent of continuing professional training.
The course is based on contract procedure for NEC3 and follows the syllabus of the Institution of Civil Engineers: at the end of the course there is an option to take the Institution exam which provides a certificated qualification.
Leeds University also has an extensive MSc programme covering a range of civil engineering and related specialist subjects. Two are for management skills; engineering project management and international construction management and engineering, and three more combine management skills with specialist subjects; environmental engineering and project management, sustainable waste management and infrastructure engineering and management.
The last two are fairly new courses. They have proved popular, enough for the university to be planning another infrastructure course, this time with a focus on management.
Infrastructure Asset Management will not displace the other course but provide the stronger managerial emphasis that some students are looking for, says director of post-graduate studies, Kris Moodley.
"This is a growing area, that many more organisations are having to consider" he says.
Legislation on asset valuation and whole life costing for franchise and PFI projects is the driving force and the university expects the demand to pick up.
Leeds courses are offered to students both as 12 month full time courses and 24 month part-time courses using the "fat module" system.
Fat modules allow students to attend lectures for one week bursts of intensive lectures, eight in all. Other study is then carried out around students full time work commitments.
Management emphasis is strongly apparent in most of the MSC courses at Birmingham University, which like Leeds combines specialised subjects with management for most of the post-graduate offerings.
Construction Management is the most direct of these followed by Road Management and Engineering. A sister course to this, Roads & Public Policy, is run in conjunction with another department.
Geotechnical Engineering is a straightforward specialist course, but the subject can also be taken with management in a separate course, Geotechnical Engineering and Management.
Water Research, Technology and Management is a highly specialised course and one which currently is drawing most of its intake from the UK, says the university's course administrator Jan Fasci, where European regulatory changes are having a major impact.
Another course in the same area is River Environmental Management, which is run jointly with the geography department.
Many of the other courses draw a lot of intake from overseas, and generally students taking the full time 12 month option for study, although part time study options are available as well. Part time is spread over two or three years depending on the points accumulated in studying various modules.
These each involve five day block teaching on site and further learning and a research project while working in a full time job.
One of Birmingham's most recent additions is for railway engineering – Railway Systems and Integration. This was at Sheffield University but has migrated following a transfer by the course leader involved.
Bolton University has added straight civil engineering at MSc level to its range of courses. The course comes at a time when demand for civil engineers continues to grow and the skills shortage is being felt in numerous consultancies and contracting companies, so a broad based engineering course to develop the basic BSc, is appropriate, says Alan Cornthwaite, the director of the School of the Built Environment & Engineering.
Bolton University has long pursued its own particular path of making the full range of civil engineering training routes available to the regional catchment, most of all to those in industry who need evening or part-time study opportunities. Most courses are part-time including its MScs.
These are run over a three year span, with one evening of on site study a week and take away work for the first two years, and a dissertation to complete in the third year. "Bolton's idea is to create a ladder of opportunity" says Cornthwaite.
Courses begin with Higher National Certificate and run up through BSc via both part time and full time courses. Sandwich course places are also available. Courses are buoyant he says because "people can see a career future in the industry".
But it was felt more advanced training in engineering was a missing element and the new MSc, running for one year so far, has been added on.
Bolton offers a number of other MSc courses as well. These include the increasingly important Construction Management and courses for other sections the building industry such as Quantity Surveying and Commercial Management and Building Surveying.
If Bolton University is the local provider par excellence, then Manchester Business School is at the opposite end of the spectrum with its international division MBS Worldwide. It offers top-end management courses for an international catchment stretching halfway round the globe.
Both of its specialist MBA courses aimed at the construction industry, the Engineering Management course and Construction Management, have continued to develop and pick up momentum, says MBSW academic director Alistair Benson.
"More and more companies are appreciating the move to part time and on-the-job training" he says, particularly in a time of high demand.
It means students and employers can avoid the disruption of being away and also apply their learning immediately.
It can be hard work, he says, tackling what is an 18 month course if the full time option is selected, involving self-discipline and altered lifestyle over the three years the course can take.
The school helps the process by providing local learning centres where UK tutors lecture and personal contact can be made, and equally important networking be done, but it is still necessary to work much of the time with Internet provided distance learning.
Centres in Singapore and Hong Kong are well established and there is now one in the busy Gulf area, in Dubai. Another is just being added, in Jamaica.
Specialist courses are offered by Dundee University in Scotland, in this case taking advantage of the proximity to the North Sea oil industry and a strong geotechnical department.
Earthquake & Offshore Geotechnical Engineering is a new 12 month full time or two year part time course now on offer.
It taps into the research strengths of the university says organiser Mike Brown.
"The university has a geotechnical centrifuge and is shortly getting one of the few miniature earthquake shakers designed to work with it" says Brown. The presence of a concrete technology unit allows a second specialist course – Concrete Engineering and Environmental Management – to be offered.
The University also recognises the continuing demand for management components in courses with its Construction Enterprise Management course. Structural Engineering and a conversion course to civil engineering, the Master of Research Mres in Civil Engineering are also offered by the University.