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On chartered territory

YOUR CAREER - EA training scheme: Flood defence is taking on a higher profile in the profession. Alan Sparks learns about a new scheme which will establish this discipline more fully.

Achieving chartered status is a common goal for young engineers. For those working in flood defence though, this aspiration has been effectively ruled out, as there has been no route to chartership in this discipline.

This is about to change, thanks to a new Environment Agency (EA) training scheme.

The Cambridge Institute for Research, Education & Management (CIREM) has approved the scheme, with the ICE expected to follow suit shortly.

The scheme was born out of an appraisal by an independent ICE commission of EA's handling of the heavy floods of autumn 2000 which concluded that flood risk management required more trained and motivated professionals.

In response, the EA set up an internal training scheme to provide a basic knowledge of a broad range of essential subjects. 'Then I was approached by a young engineer who wanted to become chartered and rather than draw up a new training package, I thought - 'why can't we use our own?'' says EA national training adviser, Steve Knowles.

Consultations with CIREM and ICE have led to only minor changes to the original programme, mainly incorporating more specific Institution participation. 'By being able to use our own scheme, we have effectively halved the amount of training time required, ' Knowles adds.

With Institution approval, the EA thinks it can attract young engineers with starting salaries of up to £18,600.

Knowles believes that chartered status should not mean 'this person has undergone some training', but that 'this person will work to an assured quality in their specific field'.

Trainees can expect to develop a range of skills under the three to four year programme including flood warning, flood alleviation, incidence of flooding and incident management.

Other areas of competence required are the ability to identify and prioritise the use of resources, develop and monitor plans and general personal development. Also covered is the need to advise local authorities, developers and landowners on the impact of development proposals on drainage and flood defence. A further, vital, element is the ability to communicate directly with the public.

Classroom teaching makes up only 40% of the training, as the EA believes that the remaining 60% can only be learned on the job. Engineers can expect to get to grips with impressive new technologies like the Geographical Information System. 'GIS allows our engineers to do work today which just wasn't possible 10 years ago, ' says Knowles.

Climate change effects and the impact of urban development and rural land use increase flood risk in the UK and will probably lead to a higher profile for flood defence engineers in the future.

The scope of the job is vast, with the ICE commission recognising that flood risk management needs to be a holistic, catchment-based process. During a flood, this carries a huge responsibility and calls on all the skills developed in the scheme.

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