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Still irreverent, still informative, still New Civil Engineer

When NCE was launched by the ICE in May 1972, the hope of then President George A Wilson was that the magazine would quickly become “essential reading for all associated with civil engineering”.

Forty years on, if you will forgive a moment of introspection, I believe that we can kick off an anniversary year of celebration safe in the knowledge that NCE continues in just that hoped-for role.

Back then the launch was a bold decision by an organisation typically steeped in tradition and conservatism. And while the ICE retains all its professionalism today, it is a much changed organisation − more business-like, more in touch with its members and more engaged with the outside world.

I’d like to think that NCE has played a role across the decades in helping this ICE to adopt such changes. Looking back at that first issue certainly highlights how far the profession and industry have come over the last four decades, not least when it comes to design processes and construction techniques, plant and equipment and of course site safety.

“Looking back at that first issue certainly highlights how far the profession and industry have come over the last four decades”

The culture in construction is now fixed firmly around delivering clients greater value, higher quality, faster delivery and with much greater focus on safety.

But on the other hand there are many things that haven’t changed − not least the state of the economy and its impact on the UK construction market. Then, as now, workload was bumping along and unemployment in the industry widespread.

British road construction was at its lowest ebb since 1968 and despite the downturn, shortages of key skilled workers were rife demanding government support for apprenticeship schemes to bring school leavers into the industry. It all sounds very familiar.

The first issue of NCE in May 1972 set the benchmark for a magazine that was “readable and provocative” and able to “respond to a fast changing industry and world…to influence change for the better” as launch editor Sydney Lenssen put it.

Its success was built very clearly on being able to “convey the excitement of an idea rather than the mathematical detail of technicalities”.

NCE has of course also changed over the years. But I believe that 40 years on we retain this ethos and reputation as a magazine that every member of the profession can take pride in.

But we have to continue to help engineers to “step out from behind their drawing boards” as we described it back then, to focus also on the skills needed to lead and “shape the country”.

Our challenge in the next 40 years? To work harder to give the profession the information, the inspiration and the leadership to shape the country, and to convince our political leaders that civil engineering is central to the nation’s success.

  • Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

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