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We're engineers - of course we can sell our trade to young people

John Patch

There have been many suggestions in NCE that we should be getting the “Opportunities in Construction” message across the school children at pre-subject choice stage.

But as an industry and as a profession we don’t seem to accept this argument or, if we do, we don’t seem to do anything about it. Well, here’s an idea!

Let’s make it a mandatory requirement for every member of the ICE to give up one hour a year to engage with school-children about construction.

Wow, a mandatory requirement? Controversial stuff I hear you all cry, however surely the recruitment of young people into construction is, arguably, the biggest issue facing the industry for decades, so let’s do something about it!

There are over 50,000 members of the Institution and there are approximately 4,000 secondary schools across the UK. On the face of it there shouldn’t be a problem.

It has to be accepted that we have to encourage young people into construction so all we need to decide now is how to do it and, more importantly, who is going to do it. What better way is there for demonstrating a commitment to a cause than to make it a mandatory requirement of membership because, clearly, leaving it to voluntary, piecemeal initiatives isn’t working.

It can be argued that not everybody is capable of presenting to, or engaging with, school children. While it has to be accepted that some will find the prospect terrifying, as engineers, we do have an obligation to communicate and interact.

How else do we accurately convey what we want done, whether in the design or the build process without effective communication?

A group of lively and enthusiastic school children would be an awesome proving ground for anybody’s communication skills, particularly those who believe that they are less able to engage with young people.

And if the proposal is so daunting that it is a definite no-no then there will be a need to plan as well as execute these meetings so it will inevitably follow that there will be those who are in the front line and those who will be invaluable back-room people.

Doubtless there will be those who will cite potential difficulties with engaging with teachers to allow career-oriented people into their schools. We’re engineers; part of out training is problem-solving, both technical and logistical. Teachers need help; once across the barrier of school/commerce, teachers will be more than happy to facilitate any initiative that gives added purpose and reason to aspects of their teaching curriculum. Don’t let natural reticence deter such a plan, nor the obvious safeguarding issues that are quite rightly in place to protect school children. These are all issues that can be overcome with careful planning.

Perhaps a way forward is for the local ICE branches to identify secondary schools in their area, identify the ICE members living or working in their area, and set up a “matching” initiative. Small teams of talkers and organisers, say 10 members, could each “adopt” a school (this assumes 80% of members are able to take part).

Furthermore, if the initiative were to be supported by employers we could soon have a UK-wide initiative that allows regular, annual visits by members to schools.

Another major advantage with an initiative of this kind is the ability to ensure that young people understand what civil engineers do and why it is called civil engineering. Most school children don ‘t know what civil engineering is and why the term “civil engineering” is used. What better way is there of explaining this issue and marketing civil engineering. This can only be good for the profession and good for construction generally.

So, is this a controversial idea? Absolutely, it is! But it is vital for the furtherance of civil engineering, the growth of UK construction and the continued premier position of UK construction on the world stage.

  • John Patch is director of Roger Bullivant and a governor at John Port School in Derbyshire

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