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Stop letting others hide our light under a bushell


Desperate to rid my mind of John Major and Edwina Currie, I tuned in at the weekend to Celebrity Fit Club. This is a show where a number of the well known go off to camp to lose weight.

Among them is Tommy Walsh, the man with the hammer in the gardening makeover programme Ground Force.

Mr Walsh, the TV informed me, is currently something of a heart-throb. And he is a very nice looking man, but I suspect his sex appeal is as much down to his abilities with a length of timber and a staple gun rather than anything more personal.

Anyone who has tried to find a plumber or a roofer knows how devastatingly impressive practical ability can be.

These people are in such short supply that one senior lecturer teaching at a top business school is advising her own children to ignore law and accountancy and get some practical construction skills. On the basis of supply and demand, she reckons that is where the money will be made in the future.

Which is good news for National Construction Week and its bid to attract more people into our under-resourced industry. But why is it the craft side of the industry and not engineering that gets the MBA lecturer's vote of confidence?

Surprisingly, it is nothing to do with low salaries or even the dreaded lack of status. It is simply visibility. Most people do not come across civil engineers everyday. They certainly do not trawl through Yellow Pages looking for one as often as they hunt for a plumber. Nor do engineers pop up on television makeover programmes.

And if people do not understand what engineers do, they will not want to be one. So hats off to everyone taking part in National Construction Week.

But things have reached such a state that we need constant publicity to hammer the importance and excitement of engineering into the nation's subconscience.

Yet firms continue to sign up to contracts that hand all control of publicity to their clients - clients that, largely, have little interest in promoting engineering achievement. Indeed, many play down construction work altogether, either because the schemes are sensitive or because they just do not understand what is happening.

By the time client approval is gained to release details of a bridge slide, a record-breaking concrete pour or a heavy lift, the story is dead and the chance to generate interest in the profession gone.

And it is a fair bet that the demise of civil engineering in the public consciousness over the last 20 years directly correlates with the increasing control clients are taking over the release of information about the engineering they are paying for.

It is time to take back that control. There is a skills shortage and that means good quality engineers employed by good quality companies are in short supply. Offers of work from clients are not.

A collective refusal to sign up to restricted publicity clauses would soon see such clauses disappear. Not only would your engineering achievements be noticed but interest would also be rekindled in the profession.

And remember, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Think of Edwina Currie's book sales and John Major's next sell out lecture tour.

Jackie Whitelaw is managing editor of NCE.

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