More must be done Career highlights to encourage young people to choose engineering if UK is to maintain world class infrastructure.
Professor Barry Clarke has been inaugurated as the 148th President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, stressing the need to inspire the civil engineers of the future.
“If we want world class infrastructure in the future, we must take action to ensure we have a world class workforce to deliver it,” said Clarke.
Clarke, who delivered his presidential address last week at the ICE’s headquarters, called for more action to inspire the civil engineers of the future, who can meet the needs of the 21st century.
“Minor infrastructure maintenance, right through to delivering major future projects such as High Speed 2 and wholesale restructuring of our energy infrastructure over the next 10 to 20 years, cannot happen without engineers,” he said.
The Royal Academy of Engineering estimates that 820,000 science, engineering and technology professionals will be needed by 2020 - with 80% of these required in engineering.
There are currently around 50,000 civil engineers in the UK with around 5,000 graduates joining civil engineering degree programmes in the UK every year. This year saw a 12% drop in the number of civil engineering course applications.
Clarke added: “The road ahead is challenging, but it is also filled with opportunity at every turn. We - the industry - must do more to engage with young people, improve their understanding of civil engineering and inspire them to consider it as a career.
“It’s the only way we as a profession can continue to deliver the infrastructure that society so badly needs.”
Clarke encouraged celebrating and showcasing our country’s most breathtaking infrastructure projects to capture the imagination of young people and show the diversity of civil engineering.
“Young people will have started to make choices which affect their career path at the age of 11 “
He talked of the London 2012 Olympic Park, where civil engineers, working alongside other built environment professionals, designed and built the venues, built 30 new bridges, restored 8.4km of waterways, and built 1.8km of sewer tunnels underneath the site.
They also oversaw the demolition of over 200 buildings, the cleaning of more than two million tonnes of soil and the protection of wildlife and plant species.
He also spoke of inspiring engineering feats around the UK such as the Forth Bridge, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, The Antrim Coast Road and the Cardiff Millennium Stadium.
But he stressed that capturing the imagination of young people required engagement at an early age to ensure they are steered down the right educational path in order to pursue engineering.
“Young people will have started to make choices which affect their career path at the age of 11 - more than 10 years before they graduate,” he said.
“The ICE has a dedicated under- 19s programme which includes mentoring, competitions and direct engagement with schools to promote civil engineering as a career choice - and importantly, the curriculum choices that need to be made pre-19 to become an engineer.
“But we all can and should do more. I actually believe it’s our graduates, acting as STEM ambassadors, who have the most potential to inspire the next generation as they represent an achievable position and exude the energy youngsters can associate with.
“There are only 400 civil engineering ambassadors - staggeringly, that equates to only one for every two thousand 11 year olds. I hope to see more young engineers come forward to take on this rewarding role and help inspire the next generation of civil engineers.”
He also stressed the need for education to be a lifelong commitment, constantly learning new ways of doing things.
Clarke said he was “humbled to be elected President”, following on from great civil engineers, including Robert Stephenson, Joseph Bazalgette and William Halcrow.
- Professor of Civil Engineering Geotechnics, University of Leeds
- Lectured at Newcastle University from 1984-2008, becoming Head of Civil Engineering
- Research in characterisation of soils led to commercial application in equipment
- ICE Vice President from 2007