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Floundering in unchartered waters Why is getting chartered such a hit and miss affair?

Whenever you speak to young civil engineering graduates nowadays the same comments seem to filter to the surface.

'I'm not getting the right sort of experience to complete my training objectives'; 'I've been stuck in the same department for years and the firm will not move me'; or 'I haven't got a design package suitable to submit to the Institution'.

More disturbing for the profession is that these are the same comments that graduates have been making for the last two or three decades.

Former Association of London Graduates and Students' chair Shona Cooper knows more about the views of young engineers than most, having spent last year listening to their tales of woe. 'There are very competent engineers finding it difficult to get the relevant experience and failing the Chartered Professional Review due to having an inadequate engineering project,' she says.

'The difficulties reported, it seems, are twofold,' she says. 'First, getting the right training and experience from companies and then secondly, becoming stuck in a department and pigeon-holed early on because the company needs your skills there.'

Cooper says she has friends in law firms who have to move departments every six months and achieve professional status within a few years. While she accepts that individual engineers must be responsible for driving their own training forward - a certain amount of bullying of employers is usually necessary to get appropriate experience - she is sure that there is scope for change.

'Set time scales to achieve CPR is something that the civil engineering profession has to focus on,' she says. And while pointing out that there are firms with excellent training records, she adds: 'There needs to be more commitment from companies to make sure young engineers are trained to a set time scale.'

ICE's North West regional liaison officer Mac Steels agrees that more rigid time scales for engineers to achieve chartered status are needed, although he makes a slightly different point.

Steels maintains that he and his colleagues around the country have been battling for years to make the point to young engineers and their employers that CPR is a test of development for engineers rather than a hoop jumping exercise.

But he is adamant that part of the problem is that civils graduates expect to automatically become chartered. In fact many engineering graduates will never be ready to take their CPR, he points out.

'There is a false expectation that has been driven by universities and colleges,' he says. 'There are too many chartered engineers. Graduate engineers must realise that an increasing minority will go down the chartered route with the rest aiming towards incorporated status.'

This is, of course, the basis of the Engineering Council's recent SARTOR reforms - only the best graduates will be eligible to take full CPR.

But incorporated engineers need to have more status so that incorporated status can be a practical alternative for graduates who realise they are unlikely to pass their CPR.

The problem is then deciding who is best suited for the CPR and who should go for incorporated status.

Student numbers in higher education have rocketed over the last decade - they cannot all be good. And there are many ways into a civil engineering career. The debate over traditional academic background versus a more practical grounding will continue.

And while it is right that young engineers should be properly trained and given the right experience on the way to full professional qualifications, it is important to keep standards in mind. The day that it is easy to become a chartered engineer will be the day we all become unemployable.

Antony Oliver

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