Speaking regularly to ICE members in the West Midlands, the reality of life for many in our sector at the moment is one of adversity. Many are facing the most difficult times they’ve ever known and this highlights the need for the ICE to work for them.
Bringing the decision makers to members is an essential part of local delivery. We work with the government to emphasise the role of infrastructure in the recovery of the economy and it has recently established a company to consider a high speed rail service from London to Scotland, which ICE discussed back in 2005.
It’s an important issue for us. Being at the crossroads of the nation, any route must consider the options for unlocking rail connectivity within the region. Following the Conservative Party’s commitment to high speed rail at its conference last year, shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers MP returns to deliver a keynote address at our Fast Track to the West Midlands event in Solihull on 26 February.
Supporting future civil engineers in their place of study is vital. A year ago undergraduates were asking about which sector to opt for but at a recent careers event questions have turned to which organisations are recruiting and whether the ICE could assist with work experience placements. What is heartening in this climate is how many members continue to engage with and value their Institution.
Last month, the ICE Benevolent Fund chief executive Kris Barnett met members in Birmingham and those with little knowledge of how their donation were being spent were impressed with the work of the fund, with several seeking to supplement their donations. But it isn’t just these direct means by which the ICE can assist in times of adversity.
Valuing our greatest assets – our knowledge and competence – is paramount. Much regional activity, instigated as a result of members’ desire for activity beyond London, is focused on continuing professional development, enhancing skills and exchanging knowledge. Never before has the need been greater to focus upon these assets to ensure that once the upturn comes – which it will – the sector has the capacity to deliver the low carbon infrastructure we need.
Key to this is the need to focus on the long-term as evidenced by our new Partnership for Professional Apprentice Civil Engineers, designed to improve recruitment from schools into careers in civil engineering. Instigated by our regional chairman David Johns, the scheme was launched last October by Minister for the West Midlands Ian Austin MP. The loss of civil engineering experience through redundancy would be disastrous and that’s why knowledge exchange through local ICE networks and events is vital.
The issues that civil engineers are concerned with – in particular managing our energy resources and delivering low carbon infrastructure – are among the greatest challenges facing society. They won’t disappear and we need to demonstrate the need for investment, commitment and support to ensure that our future civil engineers are equipped to meet these challenges.
Steve Feeley is head of English regions and regional director, ICE West Midlands