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  • You are here:ICE

Addressing our image problem

Currier and ives brooklyn bridge2 crop

This month’s column is inspired by an engineer who was based in the United States. An article in The Sunday Telegraph was celebrating the achievements of Washington Roebling, chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge engineering feat, under the headline of “the greatest engineer you’ve never heard of”.

This headline encapsulated a huge communications challenge that we need to address.

We need to get the wider public and key stakeholders to appreciate the skills and expertise of engineers, and recognise how what engineers do has such a significant impact on the quality of people’s lives.  

Driven by engineering

Fundamentals like increasing the productivity of the UK, and creating a future-proofed infrastructure that appropriately and innovatively supports our growing population, are underpinned and driven by engineering excellence. Society needs engineers, but too often, like Roebling, their potential contribution is not recognised. Government and wider society often don’t appreciate these issues are linked so directly to engineering and can be addressed by engineers.

Civil engineers provide many of the things we need and take for granted every day – like clean water, transport and electricity – helping people to live safer and easier lives.

From designing and building flood defences to ensuring stable and sustainable energy, civil engineers work to protect people and the places where they live. Civil engineers are creative people who solve problems, helping people by shaping the world around them.

Unsung engineering

It is therefore frustrating that this huge contribution to global society often goes unsung.  

Engineers are generally so committed to their activities that they underplay the significance of their work, which means that society does not optimise the skills and expertise available. It is therefore incumbent on people like us to help engineers communicate the critical role they play in shaping lives for the better.

It will also help us feel proud of working in our profession and proud to be members of the ICE. Engineers are rightly immensely proud of their profession – and the ICE’s task is to help communicate the excitement and pride to the public and next generation.

The ICE also has a duty to use our knowledge to build on successes like its regular State of the Nation reports to inform national and local government, and inform members of important trends in the industry and opinion on how they should be addressed. It can inspire us all to increase our own personal knowledge and take up the challenge of influencing wider society to call on the engineering profession to address and solve UK and global problems, and create a world where we can all prosper.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • A recent Sunday Times article mentioned “engineer” at least a dozen times. However, this was about BT Openreach Engineers, involved in repairing Broadband networks. The engineers in question will be skilled, well trained and competent. But are they engineers?
    Use of the title engineer to describe skilled technical people is increasing. So, how can the profession improve the profile of civil engineers?
    The answer may be the BBC One Show! The programme on 1st September included a five minute item about the new Queensferry Crossing in Scotland. The enthusiastic presenter was first seen on-site 14m below river level at the base of the caisson for one of the three bridge towers. He was also seen on the bridge deck during the works, explaining the principle of balanced cantilever construction (using wooden blocks, pieces of plastic, and lengths of string). The presenter frequently pointed out that the engineers involved in the project needed to solve complex construction problems. And the two existing iconic Forth bridges were clearly visible in the background. This was an excellent report on a high profile civil engineering project.
    So whenever a big construction project is underway, we need programmes like this on peak time television to convey the excitement of civil engineering!
    Andrew Jameson

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