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The Editor welcomes letters at 151 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4GB fax: (0171) 505 6667 e-mail: and reserves the right to condense.

Are employers being made scapegoats?

As a local government civil engineering consultancy, we have watched with increasing depression the development of the New Routes to Membership. I therefore smiled to myself as I learned that it is apparently employers such as ourselves (we have not taken on any graduate engineers for seven years) whose fault it is that the new system requires changing (NCE 22 April).

Having already decided to take on at least one civil engineering graduate under a training agreement this year, our management team of chartered engineers unanimously agreed to develop a new career path in which progression was identical for the new Incorporated or Chartered engineer.

Behind this decision is our belief that high academic and Institutional achievement does not appear to be related to the innovation or competence of either practising engineers or managers. Not only do we have unchartered engineers 'doing seriously responsible work' but we occasionally appoint members of other construction professions to lead our project teams.

While we do use the majority of the Institution's list of core competencies to assess the capability of our assistant engineers, their grade within the Institution is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Professor Fleming's comment that 'employers are failing the system' raises interesting questions about the Institution's attitude to the role of employers within the industry, For my part, as an employer, I will continue to use those aspects of the Institution's output which remain relevant to our clients.

CM Barber, Head of consultancy, Engineering Design Consultancy, Manchester City Council, Salisbury House, Granby Row, Manchester M1 7DL

A statistical error?

The article on Chartered Membership (NCE 22 April) repeats the statistic that only 14% of graduates were actively pursuing Chartered status. I question the validity of this statistic.

Figures given to me by the ICE show that in 1998 there were 830 CPR candidates (685 UK based and 145 overseas) with 511 passes at CPR. These numbers should not be compared with the number of graduates in 1998 but with the graduation year of the applicants.

Since, on average, graduates take the CPR about eight years after graduation, I have taken the number of graduates in 1990 as a base figure. There were 2,198 graduates in 1990. Thus about 38% took CPR with about 23% being successful.

I agree that we must not become complacent about an 'ageing profession' but the argument is not helped by quoting questionable statistics.

IL Whyte (F), Director of undergraduate studies, Department of civil and structural engineering, UMIST, PO Box 88, Manchester M60 1QD

Stop the changes

So the Institution is planning to change its rules for qualifying again. Now we are to see a fast track for outstanding candidates, also presumably a slow track for the not so outstanding. Is it any wonder graduates are disillusioned?

They might start out as a school leaver with one system, see another introduced by the time they graduate and further changes before they've had the opportunity to qualify.

I see no reason why yet another change should halt the long decline in Membership. If a further change is needed, why not return to the simpler system which operated when most of the ageing Membership qualified - a 2,000 word report, a detailed description of an aspect of a real construction project, essays and an interview - and drop the QRs, objectives, and even training agreements. This could be as flexible as desired and standards could be raised or lowered for any objective.

But please don't even think about another change for a minimum of 10 years, and then let's move by evolution and not exclude anyone who has already set out on the route to chartered status.

Peter Rutty (M), 20 Sideling Fields, Tiverton, Devon EX16 4HG

Volunteers deserve more support

I was dismayed to read the comments attributed to Mark Whitby (NCE last week). He implies that trainees still need a year on site and in the design office. This was phased out in 1992!

Mark is also quoted as saying that our qualification system is at fault. If this is true, he is criticising his own Council which approved the New Routes to Membership last September.

The Reviewer cohort is made up of volunteers who believe passionately in the importance of a flexible and accessible qualification system which is based on rigorous and consistent standards. Our vice-president should be supporting our work, not undermining it.

David Hodgkinson (F), Brookside House, Rystwood Road, Forest Row, East Sussex RH18 5LX

Main issue of Lords report overlooked

I was surprised at the treatment you gave the recent House of Lords Committee report on radioactive waste management (NCE 25 March).

The article overlooks the main messages of the report - that phased disposal in a deep repository is feasible and desirable, but that the future policy for nuclear waste management will require public acceptance.

Meanwhile, work is already in progress to ensure that Britain's radioactive waste is safely contained. At BNFL's Sellafield site there are several stores already in use and planned to hold the conditioned waste, all of which meet modern safety standards. The stores have design lives of 50 years and BNFL estimates that they could continue to be used safely for 80-100 years.

The report is a significant contribution to the debate which the UK needs to have in order to establish a way forward on this important issue.

Nigel Monckton, Press Officer, BNFL, Sellafield, Seascale, Cumbria CA20 1PG

Pier protection

The article on London's Millennium Bridge (NCE 29 April) was most interesting but having worked, either over, on, or at the bottom of the Thames from 1946 to 1966 I feel obliged to comment.

The river traffic now is a small fraction of what it was then but I would certainly not work at the bottom of a cofferdam in the middle of the river without the protection of a pile dolphin both upstream and downstream while 2,000t ships are plying their trade.

However strong the cofferdam framing is, localised damage can breach the sheeting with disastrous effects.

Certainly as a contractor I would insist on temporary dolphin protection until the pier construction is completed.

Donald Watson (M), Knockbain, Tongland Road, Kirkcudbright DG6 4UT

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