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Viewpoint: Site experience is key for a strong future career

Over recent months we have noticed a trend of construction issues that at least in part could be linked to a lack of consideration of how designs are to be built and maintained.

Looking at this issue in more depth, Network Rail brought together its supply chain partners, consultants and contractors, to think about how it could be addressed.

Some excellent ideas were generated which we will be taking forward, but a recurring theme during the workshop was how young engineers (particularly from design and client organisations) get challenging construction experience in today’s industry to enable them to produce practical, buildable, sustainable solutions.

The role of the designer during construction has changed with fewer opportunities available to gain site experience as resident engineers and assistant resident engineers.

It was also highlighted that graduate development objectives for professional review can now be achieved without the traditional 12 months experience in a construction environment. Thus young engineers are missing out on the exposure and experiences that enable them, in their future careers, to challenge the constructability and safety of designs.

Should we be rethinking what we want from graduate development objectives to ensure that young engineers gain experience at the sharp end?

At Network Rail we have recognised that our own graduate trainees struggle to gain testing construction experience. Part of our solution is to share their training with our supply partners where such experience can be gained.

We have recently established a tri-partite agreement with the Civil Engineering Contractors Association and the Association for Consultancy & Engineering to encourage a more structured approach to sharing graduate training and to ensure our engineers, through this agreement, get the opportunity to gain site experience with real responsibility.

So I would like to stimulate a debate on how can we improve the constructability of designs?

There is no doubt that delivering work in a collaborative way with contractors involved in design will help, but is this enough? Should we be rethinking what we want from graduate development objectives to ensure that young engineers gain experience at the sharp end?

Should clients insist that the designer must visit site during the construction period and include this in contract requirements?

These are questions that our own project engineers are tackling, but they should not be alone in looking in more depth at this issue if we are to produce the best engineers we can for future generations.

  • Simon Kirby is director of investment projects at Network Rail

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