Civils 2002 exhibitor the Association of Consulting Engineers is campaigning to raise the profile and influence of engineers, reports Andrew Mylius.
They are the holy grails of modern engineering: efficient procurement, recruitment and retention of skilled employees, and commercial competitiveness.
Stepping up its efforts to help the industry forward in its quest for improved performance, the Association of Consulting Engineers (ACE) on Tuesday launched a new campaign aimed at government, construction clients and its own members, consulting engineers.
Dubbed 'Engineering the future', the ACE's initiative will focus on pressing industry requirements.
The Association wants to see the skills crisis gripping the construction industry tackled as a matter of urgency. It is urging the government to place heavier emphasis on technical and numeracy skills at school level in a bid to turn around the annual 10% fall in applications to university engineering courses.
ACE members will be offered coaching in presentation and public relations skills. Engineers are all but invisible, said ACE communications director Andy Walker. They must get better at championing their own profession. Major infrastructure and the built environment feature heavily in the news, yet engineers are very rarely heard speaking out on issues of the day, Walker complained.
The government has already acknowledged that the technical sciences need help, and has made modest increases to research and development funding, Walker added. But 'the industry must demonstrate it can help itself' before expecting any more help from the government.
As well as heightening the exposure and public profile of the profession, 'Engineering the future' places strong emphasis on improving performance within the consulting sector. The ACE's performance benchmarking initiative - in which firms are able to compare productivity, investment in information technology, staff training, pay and benefits, and ratios of technical to non-technical or young and senior staff - has already achieved success.
Developed in conjunction with the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors last year, participation in the benchmarking scheme is expected to grow tenfold next year. Greater numbers of participating firms will improve the amount of critical comparison within the consulting sector and improve competitiveness, Walker predicted.
And under its third initiative, the ACE is pushing for consultants to be brought into the procurement process as soon as projects get under way - 'as advisors rather than as suppliers of a commodity service', the campaign manifesto states. Consultants are key to the decision making process, it adds.
Early engagement in project development can contribute to cost savings on design-planning and design-construction interfaces. Consulting engineers also play an important cost saving role in helping clients define what it is they actually need, before design gets under way.
Many clients are still 'unreformed', procuring consultancy - as with other construction services - according to lowest price rather than value for money, said communications director Andy Walker.
The ACE will be pressing clients to rethink their stance, drawing on 'demonstration projects' to make its case. It will be talking to contacts in central and local government, government agencies, members of client body the Confederation of Construction Clients, and to private sector clients contacting the ACE in search of professional services.
INFOPLUS The ACE and NCE have joined forces to tackle the skills crisis.
A questionnaire is being sent to UK consulting firms, asking them about the most significant skills shortfalls they face and what should be done to improve the situation. Results will be published in NCE on 10 January. For a faxed copy of the questionnaire contact NCE on tel (020) 7505 6666 or nceedit@construct. emap. com Three debates on training, pay, and recruitment and retention will be held at the Civils 2002 exhibition, NEC Birmingham, 11-13 June.