CIVIL ENGINEER skills shortages could undermine efforts to develop 21st century flood defences and should be subject to an Institution of Civil Engineers investigation, a senior government engineer said this week.
Tackling the skills shortage in civil engineering was something the industry, not the government, should take forward, said Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) chief engineer Reg Purnell.
He was speaking at the conference on the ICE's report Learning to Live with rivers this week. The document highlighted skills shortages in flood defence as a major concern (NCE 8 November 2001).
At the conference, DEFRA produced its initial response to the ICE report.
'It is a matter that the government and the profession as a whole needs to address if the country is to deliver its infrastructure improvements, ' it says.
The report adds that the review should investigate the extent to which shortages are caused by a genuine lack of people with the right skills, uncompetitive pay or 'structural issues' within the industry.
'All organisations in flood and coastal defence are experiencing difficulty in recruiting and holding practitioners and specialists with the right experience, ' says DEFRA.
'We believe that the type of work to be carried out in 21st century flood and coastal defence will be stimulating, broadly based and rewarding. Flood and coastal defence is well placed both to claim a better slice of the cake and also to enrich the resource base from which future practitioners will be drawn. The ICE has a key role in assisting to achieve this upturn.'
DEFRA warns that if the industry worked to address skill shortages in general, the flooding and coastal defence sector would benefit.
ICE past president George Fleming agreed that the review was something that the ICE should urgently take forward.
'We are at risk of not generating enough staff to deliver the infrastructure needed this century, ' he said. He added that applications for civil engineering degrees had fallen by 44% since 1994.