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Forty years of serving engineers

New Civil Engineer celebrates its 40th anniversary in May. Antony Oliver sets the scene for a year celebrations… and we ask you to vote for your favourite cover.

Forty years on from the brave decision by the Institution of Civil Engineers to launch an independent, irreverent and overtly commercially-funded weekly news magazine for its members it is testament to the vision of the team behind the launch that the magazine is sits firmly at the heart of the profession.

“My hope for New Civil Engineer is that it will quickly become established reading for all associated with civil engineering by offering a forum for news, views and informed comment.”

George A Wilson, president of the ICE 1971/72

And while we cannot match Her Majesty the Queen’s longevity, who, of course, this year looks back on 60 years in office, it is clear that the last 40 years have seen some substantial changes in the profession and in the careers of every civil engineer as well as mammoth technical achievements across the world by the civil engineering profession.

Throughout these last four decades NCE has certainly been a constant factor in the lives of professional civil engineers. The magazine has dropped through letter boxes each week to record, relate, explain and analyse the successes, disasters, changes, rows and challenges facing the profession.

Since May 1972, NCE has lived with the industry through multiple economic boom and bust cycles and, like every firm in the business, has grown, learnt, suffered, changed and survived. It has often cheered and surprised readers with its content. It has also enraged and disappointed others at times.

Such was always the intention when it was bravely launched by the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1972 as a monthly companion to its existing learned Proceedings title.

The aim was always to create a magazine in which articles were readable and provocative, tailored to appeal to “the bloodless academic and the muddy booted contractor”. And in intentional contrast to the Proceedings publications, the goal of NCE was “to convey the excitement of an idea rather than the mathematical detail of technicalities”.

To be read and not just received. Not the mouthpiece of the ICE Council or secretariat but a communication tool and vital forum for civil engineers enabling the profession to be better informed and help engineers step out from behind their drawing boards and engage with the wider impacts of their technical practice.

“The New Civil engineer must prove itself as a suitable means of communication. We are confident that it can succeed and earn the reputation and resources to develop into a magazine in which we can all take pride”.

Opinion, May 1972

And it is fair to say that this independence and irreverence has raised professional eyebrows at times across the years. Such was the brief. Such was its success and after five issues NCE went weekly.

“As the magazine of the ICE the aim is to report, interpret and comment on matters which affect and interest the professional civil engineer,” explained launch editor Sydney Lenssen in the magazine’s first comment column. “Our brief covers the civil engineering industry in all its facets and involvements and we intend to relate these to the Institution rather than the other way around.”

Forty years on, this mandate still holds true. Although the ICE sold the title to publishing house Emap in 1995, NCE remains the exclusive yet fiercely independent weekly magazine of the ICE, still answering to it readers rather than Great George Street.

Much has changed in the industry and much has changed at NCE. In both cases teams have become leaner as technology has been embraced.

While NCE’s weekly paper output remains at the heart of the service to ICE members – monthly to those living outside the UK - we have now added a daily news service, comprehensive mobile-friendly online presence, and most recently pioneered digital publishing with our iPad app.

That said, looking back at the first issue in May 1972 it is fascinating to see how many of the issues discussed remain relevant today. Not least the difficult state of the market, problems recruiting and training the next generation of engineers and of course on-going complaints by civil engineers around their so-called lowly status in the public eye.

Over the next 12 months we will be looking back at the successes and the changes and reminded ourselves of how far we have come.

Our “40 memorable moments” series, which kicks off this week with a look back at the incredible Channel Tunnel achievement of the 1980s/90s, should draw both nostalgia and learning for readers as we reflect on the impact that civil engineering activity has on society. As will our regular “In this week” reminder of the key event of the last forty years.

Changes in safety culture and site working conditions always leap out when looking back as old NCE covers and features and we will be reflecting on these improvements as part of NCE support for the 21st Anniversary Capita Symonds Safety lecture in September. Look out for a new competition which launches in February.

Other key moments of reflection and learning will be at the 25th anniversary British Construction Industry Awards in October which this year will be chaired by Network Rail chief Executive Sir David Higgins.

His recent experience leading the hugely successful £9.3bn programme to prepare for this summer’s London 2012 Olympic Games as head of the Olympic Delivery Authority makes his involvement in the awards in 2012 that much more significant.

Coming in NCE’s 40th anniversary year, the 2012 awards are set to be an extra special celebration of construction excellence and we will be handing out a special award recognising construction impact on society.

But we will also be looking forward with our forty40 series of round tables in which we will work with key industry player to assess the future prospects across the global sectors of the infrastructure business.

And we will be celebrating and discussing the challenges ahead at out Infrastructure Show in October.

Forty years on, we are still reporting on a public spending crisis, still reporting on structures being built and collapsing around the world, still discussing skill shortages and water shortages, still highlighting wrangles over contracts and challenging the industry over the cost of its activities.

But we are also still celebrating and recognising the achievement of the profession and putting this achievement into the context of society’s need. The next 12 months will be an exciting time as we celebrate the first four decades of NCE’s short life.

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