ICE President Tim Broyd recently visited Northern Ireland to promote the role of digital innovation in our industry.
We welcomed him with an Innovation Debate, in which specialists from various sectors discussed whether cultural or technological changes are more important to innovation in the construction industry.
While the panel made a good case for technology, culture ultimately won among the polled audience members. It is an idea that President Broyd echoed in his address at our annual dinner – that we engineers need to transform the way we think about our professional practices.
As he wisely pointed out, this does not just mean a change in how we approach, develop and use digital technology. True industry transformation requires a forward-thinking approach fit to tackle the complex challenges of the 21st century.
Earlier this year, ICE Northern Ireland hosted the “How Smart is Your City?” event, which explored how science and engineering can provide the solutions for problems wrought by rapid urbanisation. The event panel, which included experts from government and IT, stressed the critical role smart infrastructure will play in future cities.
Civil engineers have always known and promoted the importance of infrastructure – after all, it’s our work. However, other sectors are increasingly taking note of infrastructure’s role in driving the economy, generating jobs and building quality of life. In fact, 94% of businesses report that quality of infrastructure is a decisive factor when planning future investment.
The ICE has called on the Northern Ireland Executive to put improving infrastructure at the heart of its 2016-21 Programme for Government, and to continue to develop a pipeline of identified upcoming projects. In a challenging fiscal climate, we must adequately maintain our assets – otherwise they will fail to serve us, protect us and attract investors.
However, to deliver these long-term benefits to Northern Ireland, we need to think differently about how we fund and procure projects, what areas are most in need and how we attract and develop our best people to deliver them.
Earlier this year, the ICE and Pinsent Masons hosted a round table which brought together government officials, industry experts and business leaders to discuss Northern Ireland’s infrastructure needs up to the year 2050.
The impending skills shortage in civil engineering is one of the most challenging obstacles facing infrastructure delivery, and the recent findings of the Skills Barometer show that Northern Ireland will need more civil engineers to meet its future needs. In response, this year ICE Northern Ireland developed and launched Work+, a civil engineering apprenticeship in conjunction with the Department for the Economy, 25 employers and all six of Northern Ireland’s further education colleges.
The ICE, and civil engineers generally, must continue to pursue that kind of proactive problem-solving – the broad church approach that brings together a mix of minds to address our challenges. We welcome the introduction of the new AMICE grade, as well as the institutional push for more diversity among our members. It is only through changing ourselves, our membership, and our mind-set, that we will be able to keep up our rapidly-changing world and deliver the infrastructure that it needs.
- Richard Kirk is ICE Northern Ireland regional director