“Can civil engineering as a brand be revived?”
There’s a great letter from Bristol University’s David Blockley in NCE this week. Responding to letters last week bemoaning the lack of protection around the title “engineer”, he observes that actually it is a much broader image problem. He argues that people just don’t know or understand what it is true that engineers do.
I touched on the same issue last week when I urged engineers to combat the complacency of younger generations towards infrastructure – and the ignorance of much of the media regarding the cost of it – by getting collectively more vocal on the need for it.
In his letter Blockley highlights how the national media talks mainly of science and technology or transport and the environment. There are no engineering correspondents. As such, he says, engineering issues are squeezed out or reported from an inappropriate perspective.
Take the BBC, he says. He highlights how since 1942 just five engineers have been seen worthy of gracing its Desert Island Discs Radio 4 show – hardly an endorsement of the pivotal importance of engineering. This fact is not lost on the engineering institutions, least of all the ICE which is right now striving to raise £5M in its Shaping the World Appeal. Money raised will be used transform the ICE’s Great George Street HQ into what it describes as a “properly constituted global civil engineering centre” where the greatest minds can gather to solve global challenges and where young people can come and be inspired to become the next generation of civil engineers.
It’s a laudable initiative. But I wonder whether some of that cash, if donated, should not be spent getting a serious media consultant involved? Is it time that civil engineering got a rebrand?
I wonder what the experts would say. Can civil engineering as a brand be revived? Or should we cut and run and call the profession something else? Has “infrastructure” got to be part of it?
I’m not calling on stock market listed firms to shed their associations to engineering and return to calling themselves “support service providers” as was common as a share price boosting manoeuvre in the early to mid-1990s. That was a horrible period and did much to persuade a generation of civil engineers to seek a career elsewhere.
But for my mind, engineers do fix and operate flood defences. They even mend boilers and washing machines. If the man who last month restored happiness and harmony to my house by getting my misfiring boiler going again and wasn’t using “ the application of science to the design, building and use of machines, constructions etcetera” (the Oxford English Dictionary definition of an engineer) then I don’t know who is.
What we are talking about is elevating the specific things that we do that we truly hold dear: designing and building super-fast railways, super-tall skyscrapers and super-vital water supplies. There’s a name for that; I just don’t know what it is. Any ideas?