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Masters of their destiny

Achieving chartered status is no longer enough for today's civil engineering high flyers.

Life is pretty tough for aspiring civil engineers today, and it is getting tougher. The explosion in undergraduate numbers over the last ten years means competition for places at university is strong.

Couple this with the introduction of tuition fees and the virtual removal of subsistence grants, and the route for school leavers is daunting.

Recent reforms to the Engineering Council's SARTOR requirements will also mean that, from next year, students will need at least 18 points at A-level, or face a tortuous route through extra exams, to achieve chartered status. Widespread course closures around the country are also predicted as increasing numbers of potential civil engineering students fail to meet the required entry level.

Getting a good degree and successfully passing the chartered professional review is not enough these days. Those who want to get on are increasingly under pressure to widen their skills - even after they have spent years achieving chartered status.

The demands of the market are driving this change. Employers are increasingly realising that the traditional graduate skills are not enough. Last week the Institution of Employment Studies concluded that today's civil engineering graduates are not up to scratch: 'Firms are holding back from recruiting because graduates are thought to lack management and team building skills.'

Consultants in particular are changing, both in the work they are asked to do and in the services offered. As a result they are starting to ask more of their engineers. Increasingly they are ditching straight design and project work to concentrate on more lucrative business management roles.

Halcrow already makes more than half its fee income from management consulting and predicts it will increase this. High Point Rendel and Carl Bro do the same, albeit on smaller turnovers. Symonds and Mouchel make no secret of the emphasis they place on project and business management with around a third of staff involved in such activities. Mott MacDonald's new management has also posted its desire to increase the proportion of income derived from this


Such changes are all very much along the lines suggested by Sir John Egan's Rethinking Construction report and Sir Michael Latham's Constructing the team review. Get close to the client, work with him to resolve problems and share the rewards. As Halcrow's new chief executive, Douglas Kennedy, pointed out last week: 'The focus is on the client - that is where the money is.'

The Institution of Civil Engineers has also recognised the changing role of engineers in its new definition of the profession, published earlier this month. Civil engineers still direct the great sources of power in nature but they now also improve and maintain the built and natural environment to enhance the quality of life.

There has been a rush among consultants to get their most promising civil engineers onto MBA courses. 'Civil engineers are good at the project level but have tactical rather than strategic thinking,' says Westminster University MBA course leader Brian Jones.

'Senior managers need broader strategic thinking over a much longer horizon.'

Ironically, the launch of Westminster's new International Construction MBA course coincides with closure of its civil engineering department. The university still hopes to produce construction professionals, albeit heavily influenced by its business school.

As with other MBA courses - and current fashion means a large number are now on offer - Westminster hopes to bring together students from a variety of professional backgrounds. The first half of the course deals

with global business management before concentrating specifically on the international construction market.

'It is not so much about developing knowledge,' says Jones. 'It is about trying to change attitudes to the way construction is run. Both Latham and Egan have pointed out that there is just not enough management in the industry.'

That said, of course, it is important to choose wisely when selecting any training course. As ICE past president, David Green, a big supporter of business teaching and MBA courses points out: 'More and more it is not the fact that you have got an MBA, it's where you got it from that counts - and it is fair to say that some MBA's aren't worth the paper they're written on.'

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