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Is this the dawning of the age of engineers?

It has been said that if your daughter marries a builder and your son marries a hairdresser (or vice versa I suppose), you have succeeded as a mother.

Not very aspirational, you might think, but as a statement of ambition it strikes right at the heart of the status debate. It also picks up on a trend that is overturning the traditional view of what makes the top jobs top.

For years engineers have complained that they are not seen as being on par with other professionals like doctors, lawyers and accountants. Now they add management consultants and IT specialists to the list of fields into which civils graduates are still seduced because they think they are 'better' jobs.

Professional status is of course about more than financial reward. It is about gaining and maintaining the trust and respect of people in general who value the work that you do.

But in the last decade the bubble of self satisfaction surrounding many of the old high status careers have been punctured by revelations of malice or incompetence. The general public reaction to many of these professionals is now one of mirth or mistrust, or both.

Doctors have generally suffered by the actions of some unsympathetic patricians who murdered and maimed nuisance patients. Add to that the outcry from junior doctors over the terrible hours worked and the profession's image is not so rosy.

To a certain extent lawyers have always been decried as grasping and amoral. As the UK follows the US down the litigation path with the introduction of win only fees to the courtroom, public distaste for this profession is surely set to grow.

Accountants have been painted as villains in the decline of Britain's industry thanks to short term thinking and lack of buccaneering, entrepreneurial spirit. See also management consultants - whose jargon is now a national joke and who are perceived as turning companies upside down because they must seen to be doing something.

And IT consultants, the current kings of the hill, probably face a future as technical drones servicing computers that will become so standard a part of everyday life, we will no longer know that they, or the people who look after them, are there.

As the old favorites lose lustre, the roles earning respect are increasingly those that improve the quality of our everyday life.

And who better than civil engineers to benefit from this?

The profession can of course save more lives than all the doctors in the world by installing clean water supplies. Transport is made simple by better roads and railways. Our homes and workplaces are safer and more comfortable than ever.

But more than ever, the public now also appreciates that civil engineers can also inspire, entertain and amaze. The general fascination with the construction of the London Eye and the Eden scheme in Cornwall, enthusiasm for the Jubilee Line Extension and even the Millennium Bridge are all raising the profile of civil engineering.

So if it is status you are after, now is the time to capitalise on it. After all, what other profession took centre stage at the Olympic opening ceremony when thousands tap danced a celebration of those who created Australia's infrastructure?

Jackie Whitelaw is managing editor of NCE.

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