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Investing in apprenticeships is not enough, we must not forget undergraduates

I have written previously about the importance of apprentices to the specialist geotechnical sector. Clearly, they bring obvious economic benefits to individual businesses, but as their careers develop they play their part in assuring a pipeline of skilled people necessary to take advantage of the growth in our sector.

However, investing in the future doesn’t stop with apprentices; there is much we can be doing through collaboration with our higher education institutions and universities, after all it is from these institutions that tomorrow’s leading geotechnical minds will emerge. Construction is becoming increasingly “technological” and it is important that the graduates and post-graduates of today keep in touch with the way that the industry is developing.

The choices to study geotechnical engineering as a first degree are limited and the conventional route for students is to take an MSc. The Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS) liaises with the universities that provide these courses, and its members are actively engaged, funding research projects, supporting MSc course work and lecturing. Through the Ground Forum, the FPS has also been lobbying the government to consider funding of the MScs in particular.

Whilst this effort will continue, the FPS has also been able to provide some direct assistance, and the recent John Mitchell scholarship for MSc students is an excellent example.

The John Mitchell scholarships provides for two £2,000 bursaries to students studying MSc geotechnical engineering at Newcastle University, and supports individuals who are highly qualified (as undergraduates), enthusiastic and enrolled on an MSc degree course in geotechnical engineering. Awards such as this as well, as individual support by geotechnical companies for part time study, promotes foundation engineering.

In a further move, and to celebrate its 50th Anniversary, the FPS has also decided to sponsor up to two engineers on the Engineers Without Borders scheme. Working with the charity, the engineers will be focusing on delivering real projects in a developing country and the sponsorship is an exciting addition to the usual work of the FPS.

But it’s not all about large scale liaison – many FPS members provide work placements and holiday work for ground engineering students, which is extremely valuable to both parties. Students benefit from real-world experience, which takes them out of text books and theory to get a feel for what it is like working hands-on, with real projects and situations. Members gain from fresh ideas, innovation and possible future employees with that all-important practical work experience.

  • Jim De Waele is chairman of the Federation of Piling Specialists


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