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Letters: Civil engineers must reassert and redefine their place in society

Civil engineers must reassert and redefine their place in society

I usually enjoy reading the letters pages, but those in the last edition of NCE strike an unfortunate negative note.

In particular, Bruce Latimer’s gloomy prediction that our Institution will decline if we continue to grant chartered status to non-graduates is worrying. A university qualification is fine but there is no substitute for ability and experience.

Steve Burstow’s experience mirrors my own having embarked on the Training of Municipal Engineers scheme at the tender age of 16 and becoming a chartered municipal engineer at 23, attaining ICE membership at 26. I enjoyed an interesting and varied career via muddy boots and live sewer inspections, leading to a senior position in local government, not finding the lack of a university qualification a handicap.

I won’t enter into an architects versus engineers debate but just say that from my experience they are just like us but a bit more arty.

So I am biased, but strongly support the view that practical experience and ability leading to chartered status should not be dismissed out of hand.

  • Jim Hannah (M), james.hannah97@ntlworld.com

I feel I must take issue with the recent letters (Letters last week) on the subject of whether engineering will survive as a respected profession.

Bruce Latimer thinks that architects have already won the day. The civil engineer has already lost in many ways, not just to architects, but to planners, “managers”, accountants and even human resource managers.

All these are recruited nowadays to take over the roles that were once labelled either county surveyor, borough engineer, project engineer, engineering director, etc. It’s not just the British public who still don’t understand what a civil engineer does, it’s the rest of British industry and the entire public sector.

This has largely come about because of the attitude espoused by Steve Burstow (Letters last week). This distinction between “muddy boots” and those with degrees is archaic, disrespectful and downright incorrect.

A civil engineer should and must be both! It is because this outmoded image of the civil engineer is perpetuated that we have almost lost out.

We have to get away from these former and preconceived attitudes about “muddy boots” and degrees and reassert our place in society. Civil engineers were largely responsible for making this country the envy of the world with its infrastructure and again should be at the forefront of guiding this country into new technology which is environmentally and socially acceptable.

  • Lance Fogg (M), director, Arena Associates, Mere House, 55, Mere Road, Blackpool, Lancashire, FY3 9AU

New DG: more info please

The news of the appointment of another Brigadier as director general of the Institution, to succeed Tom Foulkes on his retirement, raises some serious questions.

How about a little more open communication to ICE members? How old is Brigadier Baveystock? Where was he educated? Does he have any experience of dealing with employees and members who are not subject to military discipline? What are his salary and benefits on appointment?

The ICE is not a private or quoted company, hiding behind commercial reasons of confidentiality, but a member organisation and those members are entitled to have knowledge of these facts.

  • Charles M Roberts (F), chasmroberts@aol.com

Civils: Another military man?

Have I missed something somewhere?

Surely the appointment of the second MILITARY man in succession to be director general of the Institution of CIVIL Engineers is an oxymoron?

  • Jim Wren (M), 31 Moss Lane, Cuddington CW8 2QE

Students must get on site

I read Simon Kirby’s views on site experience with much interest (NCE 2 June).

As a design engineer during my Training Agreement I was lucky enough to be offered a year’s secondment to a Bam Nuttall working as a site engineer.

The experience gained during this time was some of the most beneficial during my training agreement and it is an opportunity I would recommend any graduate to seek out.

As part of my secondment arrangement a graduate from Bam Nuttall spent the same amount of time in the design office learning about how design is carried out.

This opportunity was made available to both of us by close collaboration between Bam Nuttall and Arup. Both parties accepted the inevitable learning curves involved as a trade off for the long term advantages of having more broadly trained engineers.

Secondment arrangements such as these are a crucial part of developing well rounded engineers able to understand both construction and design. Engineers with this greater understanding of each others roles will then be able to successfully represent contractors and designers in a collaborative and mutually beneficial way.

There are no short cuts in training, if graduates are to properly understand how things are built they need to be on site day in, day out, involved in making it happen as it is only by doing one truly learns.

  • Chris Jackson, engineer, Bridge Engineering Midlands, Arup, ICE President’s Apprentice 2007-08, chris.jackson@arup.com

Are fees a family affair?

Thank goodness for the clear thinking of Richard Orange-Bromehead (Letters, 2 June).

At last we have an opportunity to secure the profession for those who don’t have parents so short-sighted as to become redundant or foolish as to selfishly commit to caring for disabled relatives. And as for those who have the brazen-faced cheek to be orphaned or be in care, well, tuition fees can weed them out straight away.

Or perhaps Orange-Bromehead could open his eyes: the ICE website states: “We believe that civil engineers are ‘at the heart of society’”.

Society’s betterment is through development of people most appropriate for the task regardless of background, and not reserved for Mr Orange-Bromehead’s family units in his patronising vision of utopia.

  • Ian Browne (M), 275 Broadstone Road SK4 5HH

Tuition fees are not feasible

Are we happy to rely on families to pay tuition fees and to leave poorer students to ‘find a way’ (NCEletters last week)?

Let us hope the tuition they receive is endowed with more logic.

Nickolas Collins has a firmer grasp on reality. The real cost of a four year degree in civil engineering is not justifiable. The best graduates will follow more lucrative careers in other professions. The choice is theirs.

  • M Clark (M), Goudhurst, Kent Mike.Clark@luckingandclark.co.uk

Letters to the editor

NCE welcomes letters from readers.

We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.

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