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Membership:why bother?

Disillusionment with the world of work in the years immediately following graduation affects most people. But it seems to hit civil engineering graduates especially hard. One minute the student is sitting rapt as his tutor paints a picture of a lifetime of adventure and recognition, the next he's setting out a drain on a Scottish hillside, at night, in the rain, during the winter - and being told he's doing it wrong by a cantankerous 'senior' engineer with the man management approach of Kelvin MacKenzie.

This is the time for the ICE to provide inspiration. But the contrasting views of students and graduates revealed in this week's lead news story shows that it appears to be failing. There is a dramatic collapse in the opinion graduates have of the ICE as a representative 'voice' for the profession, an upholder of standards and a helping hand.

It is no wonder then that fewer than one in five aspire to membership (of any type).

But placing all the blame at the door of Great George Street would be too easy and wrong.

As an organisation too often perceived as elitist and anti-youth it is an easy target. Employers and more experienced colleagues who should also be providing leadership and inspiration, as well as those academics who are making the route to membership ever more tortuous, can be thankful about that. It may also be the case that graduates, as ICE director general Roger Dobson claims, are - for whatever reason - ignoring the help offered.

Factor into this the steady fall in applications for civils courses and it is not too difficult to summon up a scenario where some time in the next decade we will see a shortage of qualified civil engineers that could put the current lack of trained nurses into the shade. Except, of course, that shortage would never arise - other disciplines, with the Chartered Institute of Building to the fore, would fill the void.

At present the profession appears to be pinning its hopes on SARTOR to produce a sharp rise in Associate membership. It is becoming clear that more needs to be done.

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