Why in the UK is there such little recognition of civil engineers? By Miranda Housden.
Civil engineers are revered on the continent and in many other places around the world.
They are celebrated professionals who save lives, create solutions on global issues such as climate change and are essential to the delivery of their country’s infrastructure. Unfortunately, engineers are not so highly regarded in the UK. Despite continued efforts to change perceptions, a lot of the public still think engineers fix cars. It’s the architects who are more associated with the public realm, buildings and even designing bridges. The Mayor of London has even chosen an architect to be his transport advisor.
Behind the scenes
At a recent conference on London’s transport - where there was a notable absence of civil engineers on the panel - it occurred to me that the nature of civil engineers’ roles in focusing on the detail and providing the technical solutions, means they are often behind the scenes.
Could we do more as a profession to deliver the solutions as we already do, while at the same time celebrate and promote the role we play in shaping society?
We could learn a lot from the architects to make this change - architects readily celebrate their achievements through programmes such as Grand Designs which give architects the limelight and kudos to turn them into household names.
Reaching the public through school projects also proves fruitful, as demonstrated by ICE London’s participation in the Lord Mayor’s Show, which featured a procession of children carrying models they had made of London’s infrastructure. Delighted children and teachers glowed as the crowd shouted ‘it’s the engineers’. Over 300,000 people lined the route of the show, and BBC coverage reached over 2M.
A long way to go
But we have a long way to go in raising the profile of engineering as a career, when teachers seldom know what engineers really do or the recommended qualifications and attributes required.
We must continue to increase awareness to inspire the next generation of engineers. ICE President Peter Hansford’s ‘Create Sport Challenge’ - a competition where 12 to 13 year olds across the UK will plan, design and construct a model for a new sports venue - has the potential to make a major impact, but this requires involvement from volunteers to act as ICE Ambassadors. There’s never been more demand for help, and schools are raring to go, but in this economic climate, engineers are often unable to offer time.
With training budgets slashed, the industry must continue to invest in its engineers and allow them to share their knowledge and help sustain the profession. As part of this, ICE urges every company to encourage their engineers to become ICE Ambassadors where they can gain valuable CPD and educate tomorrow’s engineers and the public. We will know we have succeeded when we have cohorts of informed, enthusiastic youngsters emerging from education with a clear desire to take up roles in a highly respected and visible civil engineering profession.
- Miranda Housden is regional director of ICE London