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Overseas engineers can help with short term skills crisis, ICE says

The ICE warned today that introducing a permanent immigration cap could leave the UK struggling to deliver vital infrastructure projects such as high-speed rail, low carbon energy generation and the nuclear new build programme.

The ICE said today in its response to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) consultation into the proposed cap on economic migration that the issue was part of a much wider skills crisis facing the construction industry.

Chair of the consultation committee and vice president of the ICE Barry Clarke said although the construction industry is currently experiencing a downturn, it is set for a period of much increased activity by 2014 that will demand a high level of specialist skills.

“A history of stop-start government procurement has meant industry has been reluctant to make long-term investments in the UK’s skill base, and we are now facing a skills crisis.

“This has been exacerbated by the economic downturn, with many graduates having to turn to other sectors for employment and engineers out of work unable to continue their professional development.

“Consequently, when construction activity booms in the near future we may find we have plenty of qualified engineers but a distinct lack of experienced specialist engineers.”

Clarke said it is the government’s responsibility to equip industry with the confidence to invest in long-term specialist skills training and development through consistent and clear approaches to planning and procurement.

Doors must remain open to specialist engineers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who can help deliver critical infrastructure projects crucial to the UK’s long-term economic growth and shift to a low carbon economy, he said.

He also said that even if a fully developed UK construction workforce can be realised there will always be a case for tapping into the global workforce.

“Civil engineering is a global market, with large and unique projects such as nuclear new build occurring across the globe relatively frequently but occurring much less frequently in domestic markets. For this reason, companies will always need to recruit specialist civil engineers from overseas for niche projects, just as UK engineers will need to look outside of the UK to find work on the same projects when it is not available here.”

Readers' comments (5)

  • There is no question that overseas engineers can assist with the perceived short terms skills shortage. UK engineers are doing superb work in many countries around the World and as your article states "Civil engineering is a global market"

    Whilst we need to address the short term issue, the more important challenge is to consider the longer term approach of attracting more young people into our profession through our academic institutions. Perhaps the UK government needs to make special concessions with regards fees?

    The further challenge is to keep our bright young people within the profession and not allow them to drift off to large accountancy practices who happen to have a dispute resolution department where remuneration is significantly higher.

    The challenge over many years is to convince young people that Civil Engineering is a worthwhile career and that recognition and remuneration is in line with other professional bodies.

    UK trained Civil Engineers did a superb job in the construction of our nuclear power stations in the 60s through to the 80s. Not sure if this expertise is still available within the UK.

    Derek Godfrey (F)

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  • "The challenge over many years is to convince young people that Civil Engineering is a worthwhile career and that recognition and remuneration is in line with other professional bodies."

    That will require some pretty spectacular spin.

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  • Oh dear! The senior personnel within the ICE and other professional engineer institutions, who have supposedly been looking after our interests, the country's interests and our profession's interests over the last few years, should now get out their sack cloth and ashes and prepare themselves in Great George Street for at least a good public thrashing at the hands of the many underpaid, unemployed and potentially unemployed chartered engineers and the many new graduates now without graduate jobs or training. Maybe even the Admiral Byng man-motivation scheme, as commented on by Voltaire, is appropriate!

    Joking aside, how have our Institutions allowed such a situation to develop? What would our senior British predecessors in previous times have to say about such a situation. No such imports of specialist skills have been needed in the U.K. since the 17th Century on draining of the fens, or in the 11th and 12th century on the building of massive new cathedrals - and then only because no one in this country had ever before been requested or required to do such specialist works. Why do we now have to import professional engineers on specialist nuclear power and other specialist works which were not only previously done in the UK but were often done first in the U.K, and should in any case have now been an established exported skill for demands in overseas markets, regardless of any demand within the UK.

    This is not just a problem for professional engineers but also for "engineers, trades and other skilled workers within these same specialist industries.

    The Instiutions must all be asked the same question that has been asked for years - why do European, American and even our own ex- Dominion professional engineers have a higher standing than us within their communities and why are they paid compariably higher salaries compared to their other professions?
    Is it because we persist in not paying a premium for excellence to their companies and hence down to themselves, blunting any attempts to entice the greater achievers into our ranks who would in turn drag us all upwards? Is it because, unlike the Architects and other professions, we condone the use of the description "engineer" by anyone changing the oil, or laying a cable or heaving a hammer or shovel, i.e. no resource differentiation?

    In addition the question has to be asked why the Institutions have not been successful in the past in ensuring any specialist works' expertise, now needed or anticipated as now needed in the near future, has been allowed to decline - despite the fact that such a resource has always been needed as part of the never ending renewal and O&M infrastructure works in the U.K. Is it because insufficient, if any, professional engineers have entered into politics and assisted in imposing these obvious requirements needed not just for the benefit of the country but also for the UK electorate, and hence for the UK engineering professions?

    Has the world now become so complex, technical and demanding, with increasing populations and decreasing natural resources, that good engineering has as high a perceived value as good health and so needing similarly highly valued and paid engineers as doctors within the medical profession? If so we should prosper!

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  • It appears, our leadership have taken no notice of response from Members (and during the holiday period). All Members should address the two sites offered for Government Consultation to make it clear those stated above are the Institution's (leadership's) views and NOT its Members. Note also on the same page, 600 just made redundant from Arup's, many others recently from elsewhere. The continuing see-saw since 1991.

    Not considered, the overall gross overpopulation of these islands, especially England, owing to years of recklessly allowed immigration, after getting our own population under sensible control. Now the immigration controls need to be harsh for many years, to rectify the mess.

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  • I must agree that the Institution does not speak for it's membership in terms of recognition & remuneration.
    It is clearly wrong to suggest that enginnering has comparable remuneration to other professions.
    Unfortunately it is nothing new, I have heard such suggestions for the past 40 years.

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