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Peter's view: Engineering societies provide a valuable venue for the cross-fertilisation of ideas

The role of societies within the civil engineering industry has remained an important one for centuries (The Geological Society of London celebrates its 200th anniversary on 13 November).

Societies offer engineers the chance to meet with like-minded people, both in a social and professional way, to network and exchange knowledge.

The commitment of volunteers in both organising and presenting should not be underestimated. Young engineers should be urged to offer their services and professionals from industry and academia encouraged to present.

Industry big hitters are almost guaranteed to pull in the crowds. A forum could be set up between regional societies, where presentations deemed to be particularly good could be passed on in a more formal format – currently, the best are often promoted by word of mouth.

GE produces a UK geotechnical meetings programme, which was included in October's issue.

The many presentations available around the UK can, in certain instances, lead to saturation and more co-ordination is required between the different societies with respect to organising meetings' calendars.

The activities/events co-ordinator of each society could liaise with each other and discuss proposed programmes. This might produce a better mix of subject area and regional spread.

The role of universities in societies is extremely important with several providing the base for regional meetings. Such relationships provide the crucial link between academia and industry.

With the current UK skills shortage, the link societies have with universities could be used to forge a stronger bond between graduates and industry. The University of Birmingham, for example, makes attendance at the Midland Geotechnical Society (MGS) evening meetings part of the civil engineering MSc course. Students must not only attend them, but also write a short report on the presentations.

However, why not promote the industry to even younger minds? The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in Wales promotes structural engineering, with qualified engineers taking model suspension bridges into schools. The industry could also promote itself to the next generation through its regional societies.

Societies rely on funding, obtained through various means. Full-day or half-day seminars/conferences are a good way of raising funds for the year. The MGS also encourages sponsorship of evening presentations.

Sponsorship, if organised correctly, can be rewarding for both parties. But care must be taken not to overly commercialise the presentations. The MGS typically invites sponsors to put up a stand in the pre-meeting area and add its logo on the first slide of the presentation, which appears to work well.

I encourage people to support their local society. Companies may cover costs and local societies are predominantly free for students. Some may be deterred from joining local societies when they are already members of a recognised group, for example, the ICE or the Geological Society. But fringe and local societies have low subscriptions and require funding to keep going.

Attendance at society presentations provides continued professional development and shows a commitment to your industry.

Peter Assinder is chairman of the Midland Geotechnical Society and secretary of the UK chapter of the International Geosynthetics Society.

He is also an applications engineer with Huesker.

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