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Japanese expertise is nothing to be afraid of

Here’s a company I quite like the sound of: “Established in 1946, we specialise in engineering consultancy and power engineering. Since foundation, the company has adhered to a policy of contributing to society through technology. Since our first overseas venture, a hydroelectric power project in Myanmar in 1954, we have participated in a broad variety of sophisticated development projects worldwide. Committed to responsible corporate citizenship, our employees dedicate their efforts to creating comfortable living environments for people around the world.”

This company in question earns about $770M a year and spends around $4.5M of it on a dedicated research and development facility – and backs this effort up via memorandums of understanding to work with leading researchers worldwide.

It’s a clearly ambitious company - its stated three-year plan has it growing into new markets and sectors globally – yet it is also one that puts emphasis on its people – that same three-year plan features an initiative designed to enhance the work-life balance of its employees in an effort to improve its working environment and raise productivity.

So what is this great sounding, technology-led, future-thinking, people-focused business? Its Nippon Koei, the 3,000-strong Japanese firm that in the two weeks since NCE last went to press has outbid Arcadis to become the recommended buyer of Hyder.

Interesting, huh? Particularly interesting given my last Comment where I challenged whether mega-merged firms such as Aecom/URS and now Hyder/Nippon Koei were truly interested in finding “cures” – genuine solutions – to our “diseases” such as long-distance travel demand or increased flood threat. The fear was, I suggested, that these firms might prefer to promote “treatments” – quick fixes such as building more roads or higher flood walls – rather than invest in finding technology-led solutions.

Nippon Koei, it seems, is fully behind the “cures” agenda. So, while I’m sure some are wary of Nippon taking over a UK consultant – perhaps seeing it as an opening of the floodgates to takeovers from the Far East - I’m comfortable with it; delighted even if it by doing important so it pushes others to invest more in technology-led solutions.

Because in doing that we will go a long way to tacking the age-old problem of the perception of our industry as one of mucky boots and dusty drawing boards.

And why is that is that important? Well one reason is our looming skills shortage and the continued struggle to get a proper mix of genders entering our profession.

Admissions of female students onto civils degrees remains around 16%. Which is not entirely surprising given that of the 36,701 students who studied A-level physics last year, just 21% were female (figures for A-level maths fare slightly better at 39%).

These are key engineering-enabling subjects and we need to get more people studying them. And it will clearly help if students – male and female – can see that outcome could be a role with a technology-pioneer. That’s exciting. That’s not mucky boots.

It will also – to echo two letters in NCE this week – help command a real respect to the title Chartered Civil Engineer. Chartered Civil Engineer. Contributing to society through technology. Sounds good, doesn’t it.

  • Mark Hansford is NCE’s editor

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