At the start of 2012, as we kicked off our 40th anniversary year, I reflected on the challenge that New Civil Engineer set itself back in 1972 to help engineers to “step out from behind their drawing boards” to focus also on the skills needed to lead and “shape the country”.
That challenge is as real today as it ever was. Because, although our special anniver- sary survey shows that 59% of NCE readers predict they will soon be working on projects abroad, the UK is - and will remain - a key infrastructure market.
It is, therefore, great to hear so many industry leaders now pointing out how infrastructure has landed on the government’s radar as key - perhaps even central - to the UK’s economic growth agenda.
And it was even more important to hear business secretary Vince Cable reiterate this commitment to investment in the nation’s infrastructure at last week’s Associa- tion for Consultancy and Engineering annual conference.
“Infrastructure has moved up the debate,” he said. “Infrastructure projects inject demand and are one of the best ways to get the economy moving.”
But multi-billion pound mega-projects such as London 2012, Crossrail, Heathrow Terminal 2, Gatwick redevelopment, and the proposed Thames Tunnel and High Speed Two schemes go beyond simply injecting value into the supply chain - although they do indeed do this very well.
Because civil engineering is about people. And these projects are a critical opportunity to attract and transform the skills of the people working right across the industry from operatives through to project managers.
It is only by attracting and developing the best talent - helping them, as we said 40 years ago, to “step out from behind the drawing board” - will the UK industry, in the face of huge competition, be able to leap forward globally over the next 40 years.
To this end, the government’s current National Infrastructure Plan, with its pipeline of 40 priority schemes and agenda to really drive these forward to reality, is perhaps the most significant step towards helping the industry to secure a future over the next four decades. Provided, of course, that it happens.
Hence the need for civil engineers to “step out” and to provide the leadership, solutions and business cases that will enable govern- ment to continue its support for infrastructure and invest in our talents - not out of pity, but because it makes good, hard economic sense.
My hope is that in the next 40 years this pipeline of big and small projects will continue across the UK, with civil engineers leading the thinking around how our infrastructure can be planned, financed and maintained to shape the country.
My hope is that properly funded and managed infrastructure will be the backbone not just of the nation’s economy but also of industry’s future prosperity.
- Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor