The august ranks of NCE correspondents were swol- len last week by Sir Neville Simms. The Tarmac chief executive was expounding on how the industry must 'make the long term commitment to invest in all our people, irrespective of the state of the market'.
It was bad luck that in the same week Sir Neville was cutting jobs to save pounds3M at Tarmac's civils and international divisions. 'Civil engineering is bumping along the bottom', so his group will reposition towards operating and maintenance services, trailing behind many firms which did that long ago.
It was also unfortunate that Neil Colquhoun of Liverpool complained in the same issue about graduate pay. He takes home pounds850 a month after three years of 15-20 lectures a week, and says he is towards the bottom of graduate pay scales.
His message was more powerful than Sir Neville's homilies, although in fairness the boss did acknowledge that construction struggles to attract the most talented people, partly due to relatively low salaries. Both men are bemoaning the reality of British construction: too many people are chasing too little work.
My advice to Colqhoun is to test his confidence and get a better-paid job. Forget chartership for a while. And don't argue that attending lectures entitles anybody to more money.
As for Sir Neville... He thinks we should support closer links between universities and industry. He believes that 'the universities recognise not only that the graduates they produce must be what the industry - their client - wants, but also that the industry is a useful source of funding'.
Children go to school and then on to colleges and universities to be educated, not to provide
fodder for companies. They go to fulfil themselves, not industry. Corporate sponsors, who presume the right to have their say, usually have the most distorted visions.
I would encourage Sir Neville and all the professional institutions to join in the education debate opened up recently by The Royal Society of Arts and due to tour the country this autumn. The RSA wants to see the 're-engineering' of the entire UK schools system, and will then examine universities.
Valerie Bayliss was head of youth and education policy at the Department for Education & Employment. She now leads the RSA's Redefining Work project, which is exploring how people and companies can lead fruitful and profitable lives in an ever-faster changing world.
She believes our 19th century education system cannot meet the needs of the 21st century. We still see the teacher as the fount of knowledge passing data to pupils, although pupils often have better access electronically to floods of information. School management is still based on a command and control model.
Instead schools need to put a premium on the ability to access, evaluate and interpret information and make use of it. Transmitting information, which is what teachers tend to do and how pupils are tested, is less important. Educators should be helping pupils of all ages to cope with and make things change, how to take charge of their own learning, how to manage risk and their own time and how to get results.
Changes in education and training are needed because the boundaries between work and non-work are becoming more fluid. The skills needed for work, citizenship and a satisfying life are converging. This is the exciting challenge which leaders of our industry and profession should be addressing.
Meanwhile the ICE and the Engineering Council tinker with SARTOR, and we debate whether a second language should be obligatory. Leading companies take the easy way out, closing divisions and shedding people. Universities decry poor maths teaching and add another year to courses. No wonder graduates like Colquhoun continue to be frustrated.