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More pay needed to attract people into brownfield sector

A severe shortage of geotechnical engineers on brownfield schemes can only be tackled by increasing pay rates to attract people into the sector, a leading industry figure has claimed.

English Partnerships and the Academy of Sustainable Communities' newly launched "Brownfield Skills Strategy" will not solve a predicted shortage of 153,000 engineers working in the sector, said former chairman of the Ground Forum Rodney Chartres.

The strategy recommends establishing a new raft of vocational routes into the geotechnical profession and more student places co-funded by geotechnical consultants and contractors. A new "Skills Development Framework" would also address the skills gap in the existing workforce on brownfield schemes, it says.

But unless good graduates can be attracted to work in the geotechnical sector in the first place, such measures would not be effective, said Chartres, who is a director of brownfield site remediation specialist Rural Arisings.

"Those with a sound geotechnical engineering background in this sector are in very short supply and it's going to get worse. The industry needs to renumerate engineers in this sector accordingly. The proper training in things such as bioremediation and geochemistry can take as long as training to be a doctor or a lawyer.

"The problem of pay in this sector was highlighted 30 years ago and it's something we've never addressed. We've lost a generation of engineers and we've just bumbled by."

He added that as a result, key projects are being held up because there is not enough expertise in geology, groundwater and bioremediation. "There are very few people within local authorities and statutory consultees, such as the Environment Agency, with experience of what is acceptable under the Environmental Protection Act who can make speedy decisions. Many projects are being delayed as a result."

Director of learning and skills at the Academy of Sustainable Communities Trudy Birtwell conceded that the problem of pay, especially in the public sector, was holding back the skilling up of the brownfield sector.

"It's a valid point, we have got to look at ways of making these skills more attractive and giving these types of positions more recognition," she said. Creating a new professional qualification for brownfield land professionals was being looked into, she added.

Tackling the skills shortage: funding

The government last month pledged in the Budget an extra £60M over three years for training schemes to tackle skill shortages in construction and other sectors.

In a separate statement, government whip in the House of Lords Lord Bach pledged to boost the uptake of engineering degrees at UK universities. "The government supports the drive to encourage students to take up engineering careers, working with the Sector Skills Council and professional institutions," he said. Lord Bach added that more would be done to attract women.

"We certainly need many more scientists and engineers. One rather depressing figure is that women make up only 10% of those going into civil engineering whereas they make up 49% of the workforce. The government is working very hard, with help from organisations such as the Institution of Civil Engineers, to try to break that particular tradition."

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