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Civils: It's time to flaunt your skills


Failure by civil engineers to engage with the outside world is the biggest barrier to the profession moving forward.

While there is still plenty of moaning about lack of recognition and status, we rarely hear any trumpet blowing or sustained explanation about why this respect is deserved.

It is not that engineers are poor communicators. Working as a team and using words, numbers and pictures to ensure that everyone understands what they have to do is, after all, the key to delivering large projects.

For me, the problem is more one of professional shyness. We are reluctant to step into the spotlight, to make a noise, to do anything that might be confused with arrogance or showing off.

Last week's Oasys Awards underlined the problem. The competition is designed to reward the best use of computer design and drawing packages in conveying a story or image to an audience. And while each year entries from architecture students and graduates flood in, the number from engineers, while never particularly high, has been noticeably dropping.

This in no way takes anything away from this year's winners.

As in last year's awards, the standard of engineering entries was consistently very high. And for me, the engineering entries to this competition always seem to show a much more appropriate use of the technology. Certainly the entries show off talent but, unlike some of the architectural entries each year, the engineers tend to avoid self indulgence, preferring to focus on the need to explain a technical message in a simple and understandable way.

It is this practical exhibitionism that we need to see more of in the profession. We must continue to encourage and develop our technical and communication skills but increasingly focus these on the outside world and use all of the modern - and traditional - tools available.

We do have huge advantages over the rest of the science and technology community. Only last week the government backed plans for a new so-called 'science media centre' to bridge the widening gap between journalists and the largely insular and defensive world inhabited by scientists. On this scale, the civil engineering profession is light years ahead in terms of ability to communicate.

And there will never be a better opportunity to start making inroads. Key issues for the public at the moment such as transport, the environment, sustainability and urban development are the profession's heartland.

Add to this the large projects on the go or just around the corner, such the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and perhaps even Heathrow Terminal Five, and there is much to tell the public about.

Of course, more entries to next year's Oasys Awards alone will not help to explain to the public why these projects are important or tell people what a great contribution the profession is making to their lives. But more entries will show that we are encouraging such communication and using the most appropriate, most modern tools to help translate the message.

Like it or not, we have to get over our shyness and engage in the issues that surround us. We must have faith in our professionalism and use every available tool to talk to the world in language it can understand.

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