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Fighting for floods

The Environment Agency is addressing the acute need for staff with an understanding of flooding by launching its own foundation degree in river and coastal engineering.

The two-year sandwich course is aimed at new recruits to the Agency and has a syllabus directly related to its work.

Every year the Agency loses about 40 people with flood defence experience just through natural wastage, and the scheme is aimed at ensuring there is a stream of new personnel coming into the organisation to replace those that retire.

Steve Knowles, head of training at the EA, says: 'We struggle to recruit people into these positions.

The whole purpose of the foundation degree is to offer a mechanism to enter the business and make a viable contribution straight away.'

The Agency is working with a consortium of universities, led by the University of the West of England, to deliver the degree course. Lectures and lab work will be at Bristol University, but the syllabus also includes a flood risk module that is already successfully taught by Middlesex University.

The course is set to start in the autumn, and is open to anyone who can fulfil the minimum entry requirements for the university;

one appropriate A-level and maths at GCSE level. However, says Knowles, mature applicants without these qualifications will not necessarily be turned away. 'We don't want to cut anybody off from doing the course, ' he explains.

'It is possible that we might have people in their 30s who want a career change who do not have an appropriate A-level.

'We are using assessment centres and giving people aptitude tests to find out if they are suitable. If they are motivated and have an aptitude for engineering we will take them on.'

Once accepted on to the course, individuals join the Agency's regional offices as trainees. Over the two years of the foundation degree they attend Bristol University for six, one-week modules and also undertake a further 40 days of course related work (about one day a week) in their workplace and carry out assignments set by the university.

The rest of the time they are available for work.

The syllabus is specific to rivers and coastal engineering. 'We generally recruit people with a civil engineering background, but about 40% of what you do on a civil engineering degree is not useful to us, ' explains Knowles.

Modules on the new course include flood defence options - both hard engineering and other approaches, hydrology and fluvial geomorphology, river rehabilitation and conservation, data collection and analysis, and project appraisal and funding.

The programme aims to recruit around 35 people a year, with each of the Agency's regional offices being encouraged to take on one trainee a year with its guarantee of coaching to help them with the course. After completing the degree, trainees will be encouraged to apply for permanent positions in areas such as operations, improvements, strategic planning and flood warning. According to Knowles the offices are all 'very excited' about the new scheme and are actively recruiting potential trainees in their regions.

Completion of the foundation degree will entitle graduates to apply for membership of the ICE at Incorporated Engineer level.

Anyone setting up a foundation degree has to make provision for graduates to upgrade to a full degree if they wish. However, conversion to a full civil engineering degree would require an extra two years' study to incorporate the maths, structures and materials that are covered in the foundation degree. What the Agency would like to develop instead is a one-year conversion course for a specific degree in rivers and coastal engineering, with an emphasis on flood risk management.

'It's part of the deal with a foundation degree to provide an option for conversion to a full degree, ' explains Knowles. 'But we are hoping that the people we need in our business who have come through the foundation are sufficiently interested to stay.'

CPD option

Bauer has launched a RIBA-accredited CPD course on flooding aimed at architects, engineers, flood defence managers, river scientists and public bodies such as local government departments and the Environment Agency.

The presentation covers the mechanisms that promote serious flood events in the UK, examines how natural factors create long term changes and the impact of man-made problems - chiefly greenhouse gas emissions - and urbanisation.

It also looks at the effects of flooding and the new risk-based strategies that are designed to result in more effective management of floods.

Also included is an examination of the roles of various bodies involved in flood management, such as the Environment Agency and SEPA, and how they need to respond to new challenges and legislation, such as the requirements of the new EU Water Framework Directive. Appraisal techniques and the impact of government funding on the provision of flood management and defence schemes are also considered.

In the presentation Bauer explains the role of new technologies, focusing on demountable flood defence systems, such as those installed by the company in Bewdley.

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