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DEBATE

DEBATE

Employers say that skills shortages threaten the very future of the industry.

This week we ask: Is higher pay the only answer to the skills shortage?

Yes Roger McLaughlin, principal engineer, Cameron Taylor Bedford, and chairman of the Association of Consulting Engineers' Progress Network for young engineers.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Let's look at some facts. The number of people accepted onto civil engineering courses has halved over the last five years.

Only half of those that graduate from these courses are employed in engineering. The rest choose to do something else.

The average salary of a chartered engineer is £33,600 - £23,000 less than a GP, £14,000 less than a manufacturing engineer and £90,000 less than my 26-year-old cousin who works in the City and who, incidentally, graduated with an engineering degree!

Still confident everything is fine? According to a recent NCE survey, 76% of engineers have been tempted to leave their company in the last year. Add the 64% who have considered leaving the industry altogether and it's little wonder that we face a skills shortage and a major morale crisis. One of the solutions is to pay civil engineers more. Controversial? I don't think so.

Some would argue that a skills shortage should increase salaries, by letting market forces rule. Fine, if the market doesn't fail first. But the skills shortage is increasing while the market is growing.

There will come a point when there is more work than resources. Will clients stop investing? No, they will look elsewhere for the skills they need. Once the door is open to others, UK engineering could go into decline.

To improve the current situation and safeguard the future of the profession, we must ensure that engineers are valued at what they are worth. There has to be a return on the personal investment we make.

Our value to society should also be taken into account. After all, the only people that can actually carry out the changes we need to our creaking infrastructure and environment are engineers, not accountants or lawyers.

At the same time, we need to take a professional approach to fees - to do a job for what it is worth.

If we don't value what we do, our customers won't either. We also need to raise the profile of what engineers contribute to society and to start talking like the innovative, creative, excellent, professional business people that we are!

No Hugh Blackwood, director, Scott Wilson Railways As the engineering industry faces its biggest investment programme for over a century, the skills shortage is a serious threat to the profession's ability to deliver. Recent research by the Railway Industry Training Council underwrites current experience, identifying a complex and substantial problem.

However, paying civil engineers more is a symptom of the growing skills shortage - it is not the cure!

A review of procurement practices reveals duplication and waste as teams of engineers compete for design and build or private finance initiative contracts by pursuing identical objectives on the same project.

Effort is being invested in satisfying internal project procedures and financial objectives when the talents of engineers should really be harnessed to add value. Today's engineer works harder and produces less:

there are quick wins to be had in improving utilisation. Creating meaningful supply chains would help planning and reduce unnecessary competition.

Despite offering varied, challenging and satisfying career options, the profession suffers from a poor image. We must seriously address why we cannot attract more women.

Numbers of engineering students under training are diminishing. Colleges and universities are asked to recruit from a shrinking pool of people; they are given little incentive to offer expensive engineering courses. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find technically inclined school leavers with adequate mathematics to tackle a course in civil engineering. Education responds by dilution and rationalisation.

The profession has been slow to embrace best practice human resource management to ensure that entrants are developed and rewarded as early as possible in their careers. Training is still seen as an undesirable cost in a low margin industry. Access to the profession must be made easier and clearer. Paying more is unlikely to solve the problem of entry in the short term.

After 30 years in the profession, this is my first experience of a genuine skills shortage. For once, the future is not dominated by commercial uncertainty. We need to adopt a growth mentality, determine what size and mix of skills we need, attract and develop the best people and promote our status within the community. If we can do that, we'll be worth more!

The facts

Roger McLaughlin and Hugh Blackwood will be joined by Dean & Dyball chairman Martin Hurst and Halliburton KBR head of engineering Dick Harris for a live debate on engineers' pay and the skills shortage at Civils 2002 at 11am on 12 June.

More than 60% of contractors said they have significant recruitment problems when polled by NCE last month. A huge 80% were struggling to attract graduates, 85% were short of chartered engineers and 90% described the lack of senior engineers as serious.

If you want to be there, email jackie. whitelaw@construct.

emap. com and request a ticket.

For more information about Civils and to pre-register, visit www. civils.co.uk. To book a stand contact Sally Devine, tel (020) 7505 6644, sally. devine@construct. emap.

com, or Russell Kenrick, tel (020) 7505 6882, russell. kenrick@construct.

emap. com. Fax (020) 7505 6699.

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