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CAREERS - Attending evening geotechnical meetings and lectures is a good and often free way of keeping up to date with the latest developments.

While they might not admit it, companies are often reluctant to send employees to the vast array of conferences, seminars and exhibitions marketed directly at the geotechnical community.

'We'll earmark certain conferences as unmissable and will try to send along at least one of our staff, but if we sent somebody to every one of the events deemed directly relevant to us, we'd be essentially one employee down, which we just can't afford, ' says the director of one medium-sized consulting engineer.'Not to mention the often considerable expense of getting to and attending such events, ' he adds.

But geotechnical professionals can keep abreast of changing issues without impinging on their workplace attendance or their employers' pockets because there are dozens of informative, cutting edge - and free - evening lectures and meetings organised around the UK by the geotechnical community each year.

As Tony Bracegirdle, director of Geotechnical Consulting Group and chair of the British Geotechnical Association points out, geotechnical engineering is possibly one of the fastest moving areas of civil engineering, so attending events is 'the only way to keep up' No university provides the full spectrum of geotechnical engineering, he says, and sooner or later something you do not know about is going to come up at work.

But as imporant as providing access to a wide range of applications and technologies, however, is the opportunities for engineers to meet with their peers, which, Bracegirdle insists, 'is terribly important' ICE Yorkshire region programme secretary and Scott Wilson principal engineer Ian Hope says he cannot emphasise enough the need to attend technical talks and lectures, 'particularly for those with limited site experience' After another long day in the office, it is not always an appealing prospect to spend valuable personal time on work-related activities, even if they are educational, admits Alistair Chisholm, geotechnical manager of Arup Edinburgh and honorary secretary of the Scottish Geotechnical Group.

'However, putting aside the need to achieve certain levels of CPD, evening lectures offer a convenient way to keep up with developments in your chosen field as well as exploring new ones, ' he says.

'In these times of fierce protection of competitive advantage, it is pleasing that organisations continue to share and discuss technical advancement and lessons learned. The forum of the evening lecture is virtually unique in this regard and can offer an opportunity to ask searching questions of the competition.' While Yorkshire region meetings are generally well attended, says Hope, it is very noticeable that mid-career engineers and managers are 'scarcely represented' even at events designed specifically to meet their career needs.

Bracegirdle believes the shortage of midcareer engineers at regional and London meetings, 'reflects a shortage of mid-careers engineers full stop' - which he describes as a 'desperate situation' for the industry.

He would like to see are lots more 'youngsters' at London meetings. 'Perhaps they're intimidated by the Institution of Civil Engineers, ' he reflects.

Geoff Burns, a graduate geotechnical engineer at Arup Edinburgh, attends most of his local meetings, but adds that those in Glasgow and beyond 'would have to really appeal' The most popular lectures tend to be those on topical issues or large and prestigious jobs, he adds, while lamenting 'the disappointing lack of emphasis on the social side of things' at the meetings he attends.

If an audience has repeated experiences of leaving the lecture theatre disappointed, 'then inevitably the frequency of attendance drops'Chisholm observes.Yet meetings should be attended by geoprofessionals at all stages in their career.

'As a committee member of the Scottish Geotechnical Group, I am only too aware that construction professionals who attend our meetings and lectures expect stimulating presentations. Every effort is made to cover topics of both local and national interest with particular emphasis on new technical developments, ' he says.

'It has been particularly important to be able to attract events which are traditionally London based, such as the Rankine Lecture, to also visit our region.

'With such a varied schedule of events the hope is to attract a larger and more varied audience, ' he says.

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