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Satisfaction & frustration

'Never a dull moment is there?'

'There are lots of dull moments, but always something to look forward to.'

Exchange between two under-35 local authority engineers, NCE focus group, Glasgow May 1999

NCE's research suggests that most civil engineers like their jobs, but have deep misgivings about the state of the profession.

A certain amount of schizophrenia appears common, with many engineers deriving considerable satisfaction from their working lives, while expressing a view that civil engineering as a discipline is perceived as less and less important.

Cynicism was strongest among the under-35s who characterise themselves as having to carry out the bulk of day to day technical work, while being forced to jump through ever tighter educational and professional hoops. Their frustration is accentuated by the fact that they see people of the same age, some with civil engineering degrees, progressing faster and earning more in other apparently less demanding roles.

Money, of course, remains a major cause of dissatisfaction, but an even bigger complaint from the young is that increasing responsibility is not accompanied by power and/or autonomy. Frustration with the time-serving approach to career advance is widespread, although many younger engineers see their greater familiarity with information technology as way to accelerate promotion.

Many 35-plus engineers see things from the other end of the telescope. Too much change, rather than resistance to change, was the problem. Competitive pressures, adversarial contractual relationships and the reduction in the number of large projects have made the industry less enjoyable to work in, while many older engineers have been traumatised by the recession.

Young and old were united in their view that both the public and 'the powers that be' had a poor view of civil engineers and civil engineering. The profession appeared caught in a Catch 22 situation in that it had few large-scale projects to give it profile and underline its importance, but those mega-schemes it did have were either mired in controversy over cost or viewed as being environmentally damaging.

But while the general view is of a profession with a lot to do to recapture past glories, there is hope for the future. The broadening role of civil engineers is viewed as giving the discipline a chance to exert increased influence, while the greater importance of issues such as traffic planning and contaminated land redevelopment offer the opportunity to challenge the impression of civil engineering as anti-green.

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