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Balmforth develops apprentices’ role

Outgoing President harnesses young engineers to develop innovation checklist.

ICE President David Balmforth has spent a significant year in office. He has seen the way paved for a broader, more relevant Institution and a more innovative industry.

“Such an amazing thing to do. Such an amazing profession. Such an amazing honour,” says Balmforth as he approaches the end of the year of his presidency.

It’s the people that have made it for him. “The most amazing part of the visits you go on is the people you meet and seeing their achievements.”

David Balmforth

“I am very excited by the real potential of the Apprentices’ work to make a difference“David Balmforth

It’s hard to draw him on favourite visit, although he does have warm spots for Crossrail (“a stunning project; world class”), Laing O’Rourke’s Explore offsite manufacturing centre (“very impressive both for itself and for what it offers the industry”)and Hong Kong (“always interesting”).

But if pushed, New York tops the bill, for the “vibrancy” of the ICE group there and for the “traction” that group has gained across the built environment profession.

This ties in closely with the theme of broadening the ICE’s membership that has dominated so much of ICE Council time in Balmforth’s year.

Return of AMICE

The outcome - pending Privy Council approval - will be a reintroduction of the AMICE grade for members who would not fit the strict criterion of chartered civil engineer today, but who still have much to offer the profession and gain from membership of the ICE.

But it has not been an easy path.

“Broadening the membership was quite a difficult question as we had to balance the need to be more relevant across the built environment without diluting our standards.

“It has been quite a challenge,” he says.

Balmforth gives credit to vice president for membership Adrian Coy and Council who, he says, have both done a “fantastic job” to get things to where they now are - awaiting the formalitiesof Privy Council approval.

“We are maintaining standards, but opening the door from AMICE to people who will be interested in our learning and our networks,” he says.

Compromise suggestion

He bristles at the suggestion that use of the AMICE designation is a compromise move.

“It is not a compromise. Compromise is a negative word. Because we consulted broadly we got a good answer,” he stresses.

It is an exciting opportunity for the Institution, and one which could unlock a transformation in the way engineers think in the future.

And that is a very good thing, says Balmforth, particularly when it comes to innovation.

“For sure we need to be more innovative,” he says. “But it’s easy to say but not so easy to do.”

Digital model

Balmforth cites again his recent trip to New York where he was blown away by a digital model of a UK project.

“There is the whole area around digital engineering and visualisations. And offsite construction is an area we’re not harnessing as we might. Those two elements alone could transform the industry, especially when you think how they could integrate,” he says.

“In terms of the long-term vision, that, perhaps, is the challenge for the construction industry” he notes.

Which is why the engineers of the future - in the form of the President’s Apprentices - have been instrumental in Balmforth’s efforts around innovation this year. They have been researching the barriers to innovation within engineering companies, and their output is a report that features a practical check list for companies to use to measure themselves.

Innovation check list

The check list has been derived from innovative projects and is as such an evidence-based piece of work. Balmforth is naturally very encouraged.

“I am very excited by the real potential of the Apprentices’ work to make a difference,” he says.

It is arguably the first year the President’s apprentices have been used to real practical effect, and this is something Balmforth - and the ICE - are keen to see continue.

“This year we have made them much more focused on the strategic development objectives of the ICE.

“I’m going to be doing some follow up work with them this year to ensure the thinking gets embedded,” says Balmforth. He is also keen to ensure that his cohort joins future cohorts in building an apprentice network.

Clearly there is a lot about his year and what he has seen that Balmforth has liked. But what has he seen that he didn’t like?

Pride in the work

“Going around the UK I haven’t seen anything I didn’t like,” he insists. “The standard of what we do is just great and we should be much more proud of it than we are.

“But reflecting on visits around the world and looking back at the UK, it is fair to say we get a lot out of our investment in infrastructure. The London Underground is outstanding compared to other metros of the world. Highways England’s Smart motorways is a real innovative way of getting more out of our road network. Even with our approach to high speed rail, we are streets ahead of a lot of others.

“And then there is our ability to respond to emergencies,” he continues, referring now to the Dawlish rail recovery project he visited as British Construction Industry Awards judge. “What was delivered there in the time in which it was delivered was world class and without doubt demonstrates the real capacity of civil engineers,” he says.

And that’s important. Of all other things, Balmforth is most pleased with the traction the industry is gaining with the government and the general public around the importance of infrastructure. “It was a key theme of my presidential address and the fact that infrastructure was central to all [recent General Election] manifestos was important,” he says.

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