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Only sustained investment in talent will build bright future

Now is the time to build for the future. You must resist the urge to cut back on investment in talent, says NCE editor Antony Oliver

No excuses for some serious and blatant Christmas celebration this week. It is perhaps through gritted teeth for many, but we really do end 2008 with a flurry of positive news for the industry.
Take this week’s cover story about the NCE Graduate Awards. Last week we were treated to six outstanding finalists who, together with the fantastic support from their employers, really were an antidote to the current recessionary gloom.
And this event came just a week after the NCE-WSP student weekend in Birmingham. Here we saw 50 young engineers from universities across the UK gather to learn more about turning their dreams of a career in civil engineering into reality.
Both events absolutely brought to life comments by business secretary Peter Mandelson’s last month when he reminded the Confederation of British Industry conference that “if you really want to change the world – choose a career in engineering”.
When Mandelson flips through the pages of NCE this week (…of course he does) he will see that this industry really is attracting some very capable young engineers. He will see that they not only want to change the world but are already well and truly getting stuck into the job.
So let’s to be clear. Just because the UK is, as I described it two weeks ago “hurtling towards recession”, I certainly haven’t changed my mind about the prospects for the civil engineering going forward.
I remain resolutely optimistic about the prospects for civil engineering and civil engineers in 2009 and beyond.
For a start look at the talent we’ve got in our midst. And then look at the opportunities ahead.
As you will also read in NCE this week, the London 2012 Olympic Games £9bn preparations are going full steam ahead, on time and to budget. And the £16bn Crossrail project has just announced another tranche of major framework contracts ahead of a 2010 start of construction.
At a combined value of £25bn these projects really do pack a serious punch in terms of economic drivers to benefit not just London but the whole of the UK over the next decade.
But then again, judging from NCE’s post bag this week, not everyone agrees that I should have a view about public investment in Manchester.
Well sorry but I do. And by the time NCE reaches you this week we will know whether Manchester’s £3bn public transport referendum gamble has paid off. As I pointed out two weeks ago, £3bn would buy a huge amount of public transport and kick-start a significant regeneration programme.
So while I’m positive about 2009, my fingers remain crossed - crossed for investment in Manchester and crossed for continued investment across the UK.
But my fingers are also crossed for continued investment by the industry in the young people who will deliver the future. Whether it is students, graduates, technicians or apprentices, now is the time to build for the future - you must resist to urge to cut back on investment in talent.

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