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Letters: Equality for civil engineers and civils managers


Dilemma: Should engineers go into management?

As a principal engineer, titled as a principal project manager by my company and not as a principal engineering manager, I understand Owen Wonorg’s dilemma (NCE 29 October) as I see this issue within my working environment.

I employ young aspiring graduates to become experienced bridge assessing engineers within my team with the challenge that if they pursue a project manager’s course, the rewards are greater and sooner. This is difficult to compete with and is becoming a problem not only in individual consultancies, but across the industry. If this trend is to continue we shall have a shortage of skilled engineers to deliver a project but an abundance of managers to project manage them.

There should be an equal opportunity for both disciplines with the same rewards on both sides to encourage skilled graduates to become engineers or managers whichever path they choose. All the senior staff in my team who manage projects are professional engineers who are still involved technically in one way or another which supports Wonorg’s last comment, “not all managers can be engineers”.

  • Paul Whitley (M)

Owen Wonorg complains that he has to make a choice between engineering and management as a career. He need not be so despondent; at the professional review most candidates give plenty of examples of both attributes. In fact, a frequent reason for failure is a lack of management experience rather than a lack of engineering knowledge.

He says that starting salaries and annual increases are better for management than engineering graduates and sees this as a critical career decision. As a point of fact, the annual surveys by the ICE and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) don’t show any great differences during the early years, although a gap does develop in mid-career.

To reassure Wonorg that he doesn’t face such a dichotomy he needs to investigate the reciprocal arrangement that the ICE has with the CMI to enable ICE members to take the chartered manager qualification. To date, only a few ICE members have done so, but CMI figures show that more than 40% of its chartered members are chartered engineers.

  • Ian Jenkinson (F) ICE Professional Reviewer, Newcastle under Lyme

Owen Wonorg fails to realise the myriad of opportunities available to him and the satisfaction to be gained from both routes.

In the consulting world he can open a veritable Pandora’s’ Box principally in design, project management, research and management associated with infrastructure in all its forms which is so diverse and interesting.

In the contracting world he has the unlimited opportunities in planning, construction in all its forms, procurement, project management and the satisfaction of constructing a project from cradle to grave and enjoying the sight of the finished product, not forgetting the all-important design of temporary works.

I agree that in certain sectors other engineering graduates can earn as much as 20% more at the start of their career and I lay this issue firmly on the steps of the ICE, which, as the bastion of our engineering profession, should bring all its influence and might to change this irregularity in private and public sectors.

  • Mario Donnetti (F)


Equality starts in schools and homes

Congratulations to incoming ICE President, Sir John Armitt, for being “circumspect” about Naomi Climer’s call for use of quotas in her presidential address (NCE 29 October). Climer says that there are far too few women going into engineering. However, if the numbers of women are not there, surely the imposition of quotas would merely serve to starve projects of qualified engineers. Is that what she wants?

I am confident that we would all like to see more women in engineering; but, as Armitt says, the place to facilitate this is in schools and in homes.

May I end by saying what a privilege it is to have such an eminent engineer at the helm of our Institution.

  • Andrew McGill (M retd)


Practising what we preach

Thumbing through my newly arrived NCE it is disappointing yet again that the Institution does not appear to practice what it preaches - look at the numbers of apprentices appointed to follow John Armitt - the female proportion is only one out of six.

Come on chaps - leadership comes from the top!

  • Trevor Wilson (M)


Quotas will promote equality

Even I am starting to find the equality debate tedious. But Mark Bannister’s letter (NCE 29 October) demonstrates that the battle is far from won.

He assumes that in order to fulfil any quota he would be forced to appoint engineers of lower, not even equal, quality. Throughout my career I found that I had to prove myself better than my male colleagues in order to be given equal consideration.

I remember a cartoon my husband showed me years ago. It depicted two interview candidates, one male and one female. Above the interviewer was a thought bubble containing the text “…tie like mine…socks like mine…”. Maybe if all interviewers kept this image in mind there would be no need for quotas?

With apologies to those few managers possessed of sufficient imagination to give me a real chance.

  • Beryl Harrison (M retd)


A broadening church

I read with interest your interview with Sir John Armitt (NCE 29 October). It was encouraging to see him say “one of the most important things we can do is recognise that major projects today engage much wider skills and we as civil engineers can coordinate all that.” It is a view already being acted on.

Last month we launched the route to professional registration for members of the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors (ICES), an associated body of the ICE. This route has been created with the support of the Engineering Council and allows ICES members to apply for chartered engineer, incorporated engineer and engineering technician status, with the ICE acting as our licensing body. It has taken well over a year of planning with close monitoring from all three involved organisations. Our first ICES chartered engineers are coming through now.

Armitt’s view is an important one. There is an increasing need to support the professionalism of associated roles on site. Civil engineering surveyors are playing an increasingly specialist role and this recognition demonstrates the value of their skills and competence to the benefit of both industry and the societies we serve.

  • Bill Pryke, chief executive officer, Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors,Dominion House, Sibson Road, Sale, Cheshire M33 7PP


Striking a chord

The Sir John Armitt interview touched a number of chords with me and I imagine with those who are keen to reposition engineering at the head as well as the heart of enterprises (NCE 29 October).

There has been a tendency in recent times to devise and mange teams as a series of specialist silos and people naturally behave in that way if that is how you empower them. While this might be a way of focusing particular skills it is something of a blunt instrument in a world reliant on cross discipline integration. And we are of course entitled to have views about others’ fields of knowledge.

Childlike innocence of enquiry should not dissolve as a grown up, it’s just that simple innocence is not sufficient.

Whatever I have done over the last 35 years of engineering, the journey from the blank sheet of paper to a successful delivered asset and indeed the productive enjoyment of that asset has been a partnership of the right skills/knowledge and how the team creatively applied them.

The softer attributes of behaviour have been as important as the hard attributes of knowledge and skill.

  • Richard Henley (M)


Name mix up

I was very excited to find that, as the winner of the Karen Burt Award 2015, I had made it to the pages of NCE (NCE 29 October). However, I was really disappointed to find that, on reading the article, I had been renamed half way through to “Burt” rather than my surname “Randell”.

  • Helen Randell (M)
  • Editor’s note: Huge apologies Helen, and to all readers who wrote in on your behalf. If nothing else it gives the opportunity to congratulate you once again - well done!

Is BIM the panacea for civil engineering’s ills?


Crossrail BIM

BIM: Should it be used on all projects?

Miles Fenton’s letter (NCE 22 October) offers a timely warning. I have long felt that the momentum behind building information modelling (BIM) has been fuelled by large consultants and contractors in an effort to secure their corner of the market, enthusiastically supported by the software industry. Together they have driven the agenda whereby the use of BIM is now a prerequisite on many public and private sector projects.

It is spoken of in hallowed tones as the answer to all of our coordination, management and procurement problems - while tier 2 and 3 contractors struggle with the volume of information thrown at them.

I am not saying that, in the right hands and on the right project, BIM cannot provide significant benefits - but I agree with Fenton that the use of BIM it is no substitute for clear engineering thinking, rigorous coordination and the development of a fully integrated design.

  • Jim Paterson (F)

Flexible benefits

Simon Kirby espouses a trending view that zero hours contracts are not good (NCE 15 October). Having worked on a zero-hours contract, and also as a permanent employee for large consultants, I wish to inform the debate.

Zero hours contracts are not bad per se, provided they are reasonably and fairly run. However, an insistence that annual leave, sick leave, bank holidays, pension contributions etcetera are provided for, and paid by deductions from the agreed unit rate, and administering on an hourly basis, rather than by the day makes them unnecessarily complex to administer.

But Kirby is (in common with a lot of large organisations) effectively cutting out a significant, and very experienced, yet cost-effective segment of the engineering workforce - individual and small consultants.

What he should be doing is teasing out the best way to achieve his overall aim of delivering his part of the long term transport infrastructure for the nation. He does need to “invest in the skills of the people”, but that is not best achieved by ignoring short-term hire engineers.

  • Steve Bottom


Bridge blunder

I refer to your article on the proposed Hyperloop from San Francisco to Los Angeles and the accompanying picture showing the route crossing the Bay entrance adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge (NCE 29 October). I suggest that your journalist looks at a map, as San Francisco is on the Los Angeles side of the Bay, and the bridge takes traffic to and from the North - away from Los Angeles and towards Canada. I hope that the contractors, who are reported in the article as already building the track, have not made the same mistake.
If the superimposed Hyperloop bridge is built, it will be unnecessary and a hindrance to all but fishing boats. Perhaps my Oxfordshire County Council engineers can be employed to prevent that.

  • David Nimmo Smith (M), Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, 78 St Andrews Road, Henley on Thames, RG9 1JE
  • Editor’s note: It’s Hyperloop’s picture, not ours - but good spot. One presumes a little artistic licence is being used in the marketing collateral!


Heard it down the phone line

I refer to Malcolm Moncrieff’s letter on the Ferrybridge power station cooling towers collapse (NCE 29 October). On that day, I was working for Balfour Beatty on construction of the CEGB’s 275KV/132KV substation up on Haworth Moors, a windy place at the best of times. The Board’s Engineer’s Representative, Barry Cripwell, beckoned from his office window.

The ER/RE shouting over the wind noise was not normally something usual but he asked me to listen on the phone - to the sound of the Ferrybridge towers coming down. That same day, I recall, the pylons for the high tension lines across the lower River Tyne were destroyed in the storm.

  • Barry Walton (F retd)

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