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Come on industry, the youth need your help


I left the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich after the Young Engineers national club awards dinner last week feeling a mixture of inspiration and disappointment.

Inspiration because the evening brought together and rewarded the young members of some of the best school engineering clubs in the UK plus their highly motivated and enthusiastic leaders. And what great assets for the future. Aged up to 17 and a 50:50 girl/boy split, the students were full of energy and ideas and were so articulate about what they had been doing.

Inspiration because there are now nearly 1,500 clubs in schools across the UK giving around 20,000 young people the thrill of hands-on engineering.

With the network of teachers and lay helpers from industry, backed by regional and national co-ordinators from SETNET, the science, engineering and technology network, clubs can rely on first rate support for their activities.

And inspiration because industry was in there helping out.

BAA, BT, Nortel Networks, the Royal Navy, and Lloyds' Register all provide financial support to the national Young Engineers programme and locally a huge raft of other firms like JCB help out in kind and in cash. All are hugely rewarded, although not all can directly trace the investment through to the bottom line.

So having met and applauded these clubs and the huge band of near heroic teachers, parents and local neighbourhood engineers helping to run them, my disappointment stemmed from the distinct under-representation of the civils industry.

Yes, BAA is a major civil engineering client. Yes, JCB backs around a dozen schools in Staffordshire - one of which was named this year's Young Engineers club of the year. But where were the household civil engineering and construction names that we all know?

The fact is that construction industry as a whole faces an immense challenge to change both the way it does business and the perception of what it does. So far most effort has gone into the former. Other than a few hardy souls working through the local association networks, there is little co-ordinated work going on to tell the next generation about the profession.

Of course the problems with recruitment and retention are just as bad across many other engineering disciplines. University entries to engineering courses are down in all areas other than perhaps the high tech and mechanical engineering branches. The problem is that if school kids only hear about these branches the trend will continue.

But I have since reflected and stopped being disappointed.

Within the ICE we have the basis of a great local association network: the ICE has been investing in information and material to help out. NCEinsite is published every term and 10,000 copies distributed nationwide.

And of course the Young Engineers network, backed by SETNET, is in place and ready to accept any civil engineering help it can get.

We have the tools. What we need to do now is use this network to spread the inspiration.

So if you feel the construction industry is letting you down, I suggest you also put disappointment to one side and get involved in passing on your enthusiasm. There are some huge rewards on offer for everyone.

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