This month, the Lighthouse has been thinking a lot about professionalism, what it means and where it is going.
The more existential side of these musings was inspired (if that is the right word) by working through election manifestos. It had been expected that Labour’s plans for the re-nationalisation of rail and water would arouse the most controversy from infrastructure watchers. Surprisingly, it was the impact of a bundle of Conservative proposals that really got pulses racing.
The intent is clear. Freedom of movement will be constrained and immigration, including skilled immigration reduced. What was interesting was the reaction. The ICE and many others expressed predictable concerns about a short term skills shortage. But beneath this was a more profound disquiet. The reaction was unusually emotional. The Lighthouse sensed a belief that we are inherently international. ICE director general Nick Baveystock summed up this feeling well: “UK civil engineering recognises its obligations to grow domestic skills but this takes time and will not change the fact that we are a highly specialised, global profession that depends on a workforce that needs to be able to move between projects and countries”.
If this is right, we face tough times. If professionalism means openness to the world and the free flow of people, technology and ideas, then the UK is not the only place where politics is turning in the opposite direction. Either way, the ICE, the industry and academia all have thinking to do.
We have also been thinking about what engineers will actually do in the future. In March the Institution released its latest State of the Nation report on digital engineering. This follows through with a knowledge sharing campaign, including a major conference on 13 October called “Shaping a Digital World”. In parallel, the ICE is working with the Infrastructure Client Group on the wonderfully named Project 13. This is an effort to identify radical changes to how we identify, procure and deliver infrastructure.
Threaded through the work is an enthusiasm to embrace practice and technology from other sectors, notably tech and advanced manufacturing. Reflecting on this activity, the Lighthouse was reminded of a recent conversation with a director of a global consulting firm. He noted that everything he had done to develop his career up to the age of 40 would soon be automated or obsolete.
Now of course there is a risk of falling victim to the hype cycle. The Lighthouse has neither the jet-pack or unlimited leisure it was promised as a child! But there is a sense that the pace of change is accelerating very rapidly. It is exciting. It is an opportunity. But it won’t be smooth.
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