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Comment | At last, some good news

Mark Hansford

Finally, some good news. ICE members have voted overwhelmingly in support of proposals to broaden the Associate Member grade.

In the ballot 82% backed the ICE’s proposal and calls from President Sir John Armitt for the Associate Member grade to be made accessible to a wider group of built environment professionals.

Such a resounding endorsement is hugely exciting. It really does give hope that our industry is open and aware of the way it needs to change to move forward.

Because the profession is changing. Civils teams are now made up of a vibrant mix of disciplines – a far cry from the traditional teams of engineers, designers and quantity surveyors of the past.

I wrote last month that broadening the ICE’s reach by opening up membership to non-engineers was a big step, but urged that members should trust that it is a step that needs to be taken.

As Infrastructure & Projects Authority senior advisor Keith Waller argued at a round table last month, it’s not just more skills but different skills that were needed to shape the industry. Waller co-authored the body’s National Infrastructure Plan for Skills report last year which highlighted the need to recruit and train 100,000 new construction personnel by 2020 and retrain a further 250,000.

“We need the industry to be different from what it is at the moment,” he said. “The way we currently operate in construction is non-sustainable. If you go back 30 or 40 years, most of the built environment was put together by traditional civil engineering trades. That proportion is decreasing significantly, so we need to focus on how we get the right skills, and from there, focus on how we drive up productivity in delivery; how we improve performance; and ask what role do individuals and organisations play in improving the skilled productive workforce to deliver those outcomes.”

At the debate Kapsch TrafficCom managing director Sharon Kindleysides agreed that industry must accept that the skills need is continually changing. Her personal experience bears that out: she began in shipbuilding and now runs an intelligent transport business, focusing on the likely impact of autonomous vehicles.

“When I started working, I went into an industry that doesn’t exist anymore,” she stated. “I’m now working in intelligent transportation systems; a job that didn’t exist 25 years ago. The job today’s graduates and young people are going to be doing when they are my age doesn’t exist yet.”

Waller urged action to bring in more non-engineers, suggesting that there are plenty of chartered engineers in the UK to do the jobs that chartered engineers are required to do. But his point was that the industry needs more people with those skills to do to the broad range of jobs that need doing.

“Probably half of us around this table are chartered engineers who probably spend less than 10% of our time on chartered engineering work,” he said.

Now, there is clear message that those people, with those skills, are not just welcome, but an integral part of the team and of the debate. Good news indeed.


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