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ICE President interview | Andrew Wyllie

A wyllie cover

Incoming ICE President Andrew Wyllie is focused on the changing demands placed on the civil engineering profession

Incoming ICE president and Costain chief executive Andrew Wyllie begins with a boast.

He is proud of the fact that this year, for the first time in his company’s history, more than half of its graduate intake was female.

Management policies

What he is more proud of is that this has not happened by some kind of accident, but as a result of some very specific management policies, some lifted from Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book Lean In which draws on her experience of working in some of the world’s most successful businesses. It looks at what women can do to help themselves, and how making small changes in their lives can bring about change on a more universal scale.

Ideas picked up on by Wyllie and his executive team include a tactic straight out of Lean In’s introductory chapter – that of introducing expectant mother parking to all Costain worksites. Wyllie says there are no exceptions.

The ICE really needs to contemplate who and what the civil engineering industry really is

That is just one obvious example, but there are other tactics at play. Costain has run women-only selection centres and Wyllie has no time for people who suggest that it is biasing against male graduates.

So why is Wyllie, a civil engineer turned MBA-qualified business leader, so concerned that about gender diversity? And more to the point, what has it to do with him becoming ICE President?

“Why is it important?” asks Wyllie. “Network Rail for the first time has put equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) performance as a hard criteria for assessment [of its suppliers] so you need to demonstrate the EDI performance of the business as well as your technical skill if you want to win work,” he says.

“The percentage allocated to EDI could easily be the difference between winning and losing. So it’s important,” he says.

“That is only going accelerate,” he says. In his mind, the industry has to respond. And that starts with the ICE.

Measure of success

It is one of the most obvious metrics he can measure in his year as President. Indeed, when pressed, he says it is one of two measures of success. So expect to see some clear gender diversity policies emerging this year.

The second is harder to measure but of the utmost importance. He is determined to see a shift in mindset concerning the importance of technology to the civil engineering profession.

This is demonstrably happening at Costain, where he has also driven a shift in the type of graduates his firm now recruits.

Yes civil engineering graduates are still in the mix, but so too are data scientists, computer scientists, and more.

“We are operating in a dynamic and rapidly changing market environment. Significant demographic, economic and social trends are having a deep impact on the performance and service required from the UK’s energy, water and transportation infrastructures. For example, the National Infrastructure Assessment published this summer contemplates close to 100% adoption of new electric vehicle sales in the UK by 2030. These trends are causing urgent infrastructure needs and the solutions to address them are increasingly complex and technology enabled,” he says.

Wyllie cropped

Wyllie cropped

Wyllie: “If you started again with a clean sheet of paper, you would recreate the ICE while acknowledging the need for a much broader skills base

So does he see a contradiction in becoming president of an Institution of which most of his graduate intake surely do not aspire to be members?

“I totally disagree with that,” he asserts.

“What’s a civil engineer?” he asks. Wyllie is a man who likes to challenge those around him. “What does a civil engineer want to do?”

He believes that civil engineers want to improve society.

“If you go back 200 years to the very beginning, engineers of all backgrounds joined the ICE because they wanted to do just that. In my mind that purpose has not changed and in my mind, if you started again with a clean sheet of paper, you would recreate the ICE while acknowledging the need for a much broader skills base.”

Need for a broader based ICE

Wyllie, with his business leader hat on, is acutely aware of the importance to the ICE of acknowledging that need for a broader base, particularly as it strives to grow membership from 92,000 to 100,000-plus in the next two to three years.

“The opportunity is for the ICE to recognise that the choices for your average 19 or 20 year old for his or her professional development are really broad,” he explains.

 “The ICE really needs to contemplate who and what the civil engineering industry really is.”

Wyllie, again referencing his own firm’s direction of travel towards technology, points to the size of the market under a broader definition of civil engineering.

In September, Highways England awarded Costain a contract to deliver roadside technology for a trial of connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) on the A2/M2 corridor between London and Dover. It is a fundamental shift in the type of work Costain is seeking to do and, says Wyllie, highlights the types of company Costain now works with and competes with.

“We’re going to be doing live trials on the highway network of CAVs, lorry platooning and other technology-led solutions,” explains Wyllie.

Skill alone is not enough to be relevant in the fourth Industrial Revolution

“The people we are collaborating with and competing with are companies like Cisco, Nokia and Jaguar Land Rover.”

“In my mind this is all civil engineering. I have a much broader view of what civil engineering is,” he says.

And this means opening the ICE’s doors to a much broader skill set.

“If you’re an algorithm writer for Highways England,  where do you go for your professional development?” asks Wyllie. “Right now, it’s not here.”

Wyllie is keen to emphasise the fact that his view is firmly in line with the thinking of vice president Ed McCann’s recent ICE Council-commissioned skills review. This recognises that as well as broadening the institution membership’s skills base, specifically the qualifications in highly technical, safety critical activities that are likely to be needed.

“I am not saying there aren’t specific skills and standards for, say, designing bridges. My argument is that skill alone is not enough to be relevant in the fourth Industrial Revolution,” says Wyllie.

Industrial revolution

He draws analogies with those in the canal boat business when the railways came along.

“I would argue that there isn’t any engineer in any role in 2018 that hasn’t got to decide if they are in the canal boat business or the railway business. As it is quite hard to be in both,” he says.

“If you look at where our customers are spending their money, whether it is Network Rail, Highways England or the water utilities, it is in technology-led solutions.”

As an example, Network Rail has announced that a significant amount of its £47bn spending programme in Control Period 6, commencing next year, will be targeted at asset enhancement and the “digital railway” rather than large capital projects.

Meanwhile CAVs and their enabling infrastructure represent a growing market opportunity expected to be worth  £11bn per annum in the UK by 2030.“In my opinion, that should be

at the forefront of the ICE’s mind,” says Wyllie.

He is determined to try and use his year as President to reinforce this need for constant business renewal and impress it on those involved in running the Institution’s affairs.

“Can you name in any sector a growing business that hasn’t fundamentally transformed its business in the last two or three years?” he asks.

No is the expected answer.

Success story

“Quite,” he affirms. “Yes, the ICE is a success story. It has 92,000 members in 60-odd countries around the world. But what we’re talking about is the same conversation that is going on in all organisations.

“We have to keep reviewing. We need to be clear on our purpose. There is nothing more motivational than clarity of purpose. So if we can just agree on what that is, then it can open people’s minds.”

And to Wyllie, that purpose is clear.

“In the UK for sure, there are three big ticket agenda items: increasing the capacity of the existing [transport] network, significantly improving customer service, and securing security of [energy] supply.

“There is a revolution in the use of technology to achieve those goals.

Clients have a wide range of tools

“Our customers have available to them an extraordinary range of tools. So as civil engineers, as the ICE, we need to have all those tools,” he says, adding that currently, in his view, the ICE is not recognising this.

“Recognising that technology has a core part to play in achieving our purpose is not where it is right now,” he says.

Wyllie has three further goals for the ICE. One is for it to improve its position as the go-to place on the big issues. He cites past-president Peter Hansford’s recent post-Grenfell In Plain Sight report on the risks of catastrophic failure in infrastructure as a great example.

The next is probably the hardest: bring down infrastructure delivery costs. “We absolutely need to deliver value for money as engineers, as every customer has a budget. It’s unrealistic to go to customers and just ask them to spend more money.

“The ICE can help its members deliver value for money – take Project 13 as an example – it helps facilitate that. But there is a lot more we can do,” he says.

And the final goal? Well, it takes us full circle. “We need to be attracting and retaining the finest minds of the next generation,” states Wyllie.

“Henry Palmer started this organisation because he knew that the solutions were going to come from the finest minds of the next generation,” states Wyllie.

“This is a new era for civil engineers; there has never been a better opportunity; and that opportunity is limited only by your imagination.” 


Global Engineering Congress

A key task Wyllie has accepted for his year as President will be to lead delivery of actions arising from the recent Global Engineering Congress (GEC), held in October in London.

 The ICE is currently collating and developing a route map based on the debates and discussions at the Congress and will soon publish the outcome.

At the Congress the global engineering community came together to discuss what it  can actively do to tackle the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Congress was opened by World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO) president Marlene Kanga reading an endorsement from the UN Secretary General applauding the efforts being made during the congress.

The message said: “I congratulate the Institution of Civil Engineers on its 200th anniversary. As one of the world’s oldest such organisations, the Institution has made significant contributions to the development of the very infrastructure of modern life.

Ice presidential event 2018 7076

Ice presidential event 2018 7076

Wyllie says it is time to act on climate change

“The United Nations will continue to count on your engagement and support as we strive to achieve the 17 SDGs –the world’s blueprint for building a future of peace and prosperity for all on a healthy planet.

“Every one of the goals requires solutions rooted in science, technology and engineering. I am therefore pleased that the focus of this Global Engineering Congress is to advance the goals relating to water, energy, infrastructure and cities.

“Climate action is especially urgent; climate change is running faster than we are, and I continue to stress the need to do what science demands before it is too late.”

Delegates from more than 80 countries shared ideas for practical solutions to help achieve the UNSDGs.

It also confronted some of the major global engineering issues highlighted by Wyllie, such as emerging technologies and the ramifications for employment and wider society.

WFEO p  resident elect Gong Ke, and member of the UN Science Advisory Council, acknowledged people’s fears that artificial intelligence (AI) may threaten jobs. But he pointed out how the Industrial Revolution and then technology created new jobs and opportunities.

Jianping Wu, professor at Tsinghua University, emphasised that the ultimate aim of the SDGs is to improve people’s quality of life.

He argued that AI has the potential to increase leisure time for many people.

“Bear this in mind when talking about the future, and robots taking over people’s jobs,” he said.

Speaking more specifically about technology’s impact on engineering, Wu introduced the audience to his recent research work on the “virtual city”.

He said: “If the data is there, we can use mathematical models to operate, to predict, to assess if our systems are correct or not … In the future, we can help humans to manage the real world … using data, using artificial intelligence.”

Liming Chen, chair of IBM’s Great China Group, also talked about the likely impact of technology on engineering.

“Jobs will be lost or change with the development of AI. However, 20 years ago nobody knew there would be 20M software developers – so jobs will also be created. It’s likely these jobs will be something unimaginable today,” he said.

The congress concluded with a joint statement of intent to take action on climate change signed by the ICE and its US and Canadian counterparts the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering.

The statement outlines the three organisations’ intentions to raise the standards of civil engineering and require their members to demonstrate a sound knowledge of sustainable development and the SDGs.

Outgoing ICE President Lord Mair said: “We are all here because we want to make a difference. By using the SDGs as the focus and the GEC as the forum, we will advocate the benefits of taking a sustainable approach through

our public voice and policy work,” he said.

To achieve this, he said, collaboration is key. “We cannot do this alone,” said Mair. “After this week’s Congress, we must focus on ensuring the engineering bodies collectively address the SDGs – by demonstrating strong leadership, advocacy and collaboration. Together, we can make a difference.”

That, then, is Wyllie’s challenge.


Andrew Wyllie CV

September 2005 – present Chief executive, Costain Group

September 2017 – Present  Non-executive director, Yorkshire Water

April 2009 – April 2017 Non-executive director, Scottish Water

July 2001 – July 2005 Taylor Woodrow Group executive committee and managing director, Taylor Woodrow Construction

October 1999 – July 2001 Director, Taylor Woodrow Construction

July 1996 – September 1999 Operations director, Africa division, Taylor Woodrow Construction

June 1993 – June 1996 Business development executive, Taylor Woodrow

1991 – 1993 MBA degree London Business School

September 1984 Joins Taylor Woodrow International as a graduate civil engineer working in Saudi Arabia, Ghana and the Falkland Islands

1980 – 1984 University of Strathclyde, Glasgow BSc (Hons) in Civil Engineering

Readers' comments (2)

  • Congratulations to Mr. Wyllie for the new role.

    However, what I am reading regarding Mr. Wyllie's view of gender equality and diversity is worrying. According to the Women's Engineering society, in 2017 only 15.1% of engineering graduates were female. One would expect this number to reflect the percentage of graduate jobs offered to female candidates as well. Being proud that "more than half of Costain's graduate intake was female" doesn't sound inclusive or fair to me.

    One key point missing from Mr Wyllie's agenda though is the fact that the "art" of engineering in general is currently going through a slow and painful death. Technical-minded, practical engineers are rare to come by and most engineers my age (late twenties - early thirties) are so disenchanted with the profession that they go into management or completely different work fields.

    I am a huge sucker for technology as long as it makes people's lives better (and the current implementation of BIM in the UK really doesn't...but this is another discussion) so getting a more diverse range of skills into the ICE is a big plus in my book. However...capable design engineers are also needed to make this work and nobody seems to have a solution for this issue.

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  • I find it difficult to swallow Andrew Wyllie as President of ICE and also his words, having had first hand experience of the appalling treatment by Costain of their supply chain, notably designers. Nearly a quarter of a century on has the Latham Report changed anything?

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