MP Alan Milburn’s recent Fair Access to the Profession Panel report Unleashing Aspiration highlighted
the worrying lack of diversity within the UK’s professions. Tom Foulkes discusses the challenges facing
civil engineers in attracting a more diverse workforce in the UK and how the ICE is addressing them.
Social mobility in UK professions is a lively area of debate at the moment and civil engineering is not exempt from the challenges it presents. On an industry level, a diverse workforce in terms of gender, race, social class and educational background, means a stronger workforce and improved productivity.
On a national level, diversity in the professions will promote global competitiveness and help boost the economy. MP Alan Milburn’s report Unleashing Aspiration is a significant step towards addressing diversity, but it’s a long road that stretches out before us. Real change will need continued political will and industry buy-in at all levels.
On an industry level, a diverse workforce means strength and improved productivity. On a national level, diversity will promote global competitiveness.
Unleashing Aspiration has highlighted the decline in nongraduate entry to professions, low take-up of higher education courses from the vocational and apprenticeship routes, and the professional recruitment processes themselves, as significant barriers.
It calls for more flexible routes to entry, development of internships and apprenticeship programmes and effective careers mentoring and guidance in schools and colleges. It is hoped that this approach would open up professions to a wider pool of talent and encourage students from relatively less affluent backgrounds to apply to university.
Fortunately, I believe we can stand proud in our industry. Civil engineers, guided largely by the ICE and its work with other institutions, are ahead of the game. We have long acknowledged the need to improve access to civil engineering, particularly through better engagement with young people and women.
A renewed workforce
Civil engineering in the UK has an aging, predominantly middle-class, male workforce that will need to be renewed over the coming years and the ICE is addressing this vigorously.
The ICE’s technical report route (www.ice.org.uk/trr) allows candidates with experience, but few or no academic qualifications, to gain professional qualification. There are also various employer training schemes and part-time further and higher education courses.
Through these approaches the ICE has already ensured potential civil engineers have an alternative to the traditional full-time student to graduate entry path.
We are also promoting apprenticeships and internships. It is encouraging that employers are actively trying to safeguard these placements.
Similarly, through partnership with universities, employers and the ICE, we are also promoting apprenticeships and internships. It is encouraging that even in the current economic climate it is the norm rather than the exception and employers are actively trying to safeguard these placements.
I am pleased to see an industry-wide acknowledgement that investment in skills, development and young talent is vital for the future. The ICE Quest scholarships are an excellent example, awarding summer placements to around 350 undergraduates every year.
It is also good to see that civil engineers are leading the stakes in gender equality, slowly succeeding in rooting out the tired clichés about engineering being a men-only profession. Currently women make up over 18% of our UK student membership, above the engineering sector average of 14%.
A positive impact
The work the ICE is doing in promoting the profession to schools and universities through female and ethnic minority ambassadors and membership development officers is starting to make a positive impact on the next generation.
This is an area that the ICE will be watching closely and as the voice of the industry, will be making our views heard whenever possible.
Where the profession has limited influence at a fundamental level is in improving the performance of schools, largely in lower socio-economic areas, which can act as a limitation to less advantaged students.
This is an area that the ICE will be watching closely and as the voice of the industry, will be making our views heard whenever possible and at the highest levels of government.
While I fully recognise there is still much work to be done by the ICE and others to continue to improve access to the profession and tackle social mobility issues, I am confident that civil engineers are aware and active in the progress of diversity. ICE qualification is simply a matter of ability. Our processes are open and transparent and completely blind to all non-professional issues such as age, gender, race, religion and social background. We do not want talented people to be lost to the profession for any reason.
- Tom Foulkes is ICE director general