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The mid-1990s saw the arrival of a new word in the engineer's lexicon, tongue-tying even the most eloquent of our peers. But what is a geoenvironmental engineer, and what special training has she/he received? Why is the narrowly defined geo-industry seeki

As I write this Talking Point on a laptop in Milan on a Sunday evening, I ask myself what tremendous training by former employers set me up in this inviting location this February evening, to meet European groundwater professionals discussing remediation technologies. A more pertinent question is what are we training our new generation for, given the potential sustainability problems of the new century? Unfortunately, I see specialism rather than generalism taking hold in the industry. Training is treated as an expensive 'chore' for employers, replacing valuable chargeable time rather than an investment for the future.

As Jan Hellings spelt out clearly in GE's sister magazine New Civil Engineer (Your Career,27 January), a trained civil/ground engineer is the best equipped to manage remediation projects, and liaise with all the specialist advisers from allied professions.However, it is common for geoenvironmental professionals to be found advising the main players in redevelopment rather than leading the pack of professionals.While there will always be a demand for experts with specific skills, our clients (private and public) are increasingly seeking to employ knowledgeable professionals to represent their commercial aims, backed up (but not currently led) by top-class expertise in ground treatment. Hence we have allowed the rise of project management and cost consultancy to a primary position in many clients' eyes.

I'm afraid that ground experts - whether engineers, geologists or environmental scientists - are yielding the ground to these other construction professionals by our unwillingness to seek wider expertise through training, and by our employers'vision of sharpening our technical expertise at the expense of wider contractual knowledge.

The creation of centres of ground engineering expertise within consultancies only exacerbates the training problem.

How can effective civil engineering training in, for example, contractual management and documentation be carried out when the 'ground professional' is expected to provide only the specialist input to a project managed by a separate, larger part of the organisation? If employers fail to allow their staff to move between in-house departments, or sufficient site responsibility, they will not obtain a suitable breadth of exposure to all aspects of civil engineering.

The potential result is a significant attrition rate of staff moving to more enlightened (or smaller) employers, where such opportunities can be realised.

Narrowing the field of knowledge or experience within site investigation companies in the name of economic efficiency means that SI professionals are virtually unemployable outside their specific branch of the industry.

This is particularly the case when they have spent many years honing investigation techniques at the expense of any significant, live remediation contract management or design exposure.

I don't have a quick and easy solution to this problem of adequate training, but suggest that employers treat with more than a cursory nod recommendations by professional institutions about the number of CPD days a year or percentage of time spent annually on non-chargeable work.

It's not only part of professional development, it is the key to your staff 's futures and the ability of your company to keep abreast of developments.Employees are much more mobile now than 20 years ago, and they are not shy to ask about company training programmes at interviews (a tip here - ask about your interviewer's recent CPD record to get a clue as to whether the firm/person is serious about training.Odds on that the more senior the staff, the more probable they can't produce the paperwork).

Finally, make sure the training develops you, and if necessary organise and fund it yourself.The 'watery' lessons I learnt early on about drainage design or effluent treatment have proven very relevant to my geoenvironmental understanding of the physical or biological actions that affect technologies such as soil washing or bioremediation.The current training themes for a geoenvironmental expert would pick up none of these.

I'd always seen civil engineering as being my main field, with soils expertise (via an MSc) as an add-on, plus a further business qualification to top things up.Both these were selffunded, because my then employers could not see the relevance or undertake a similar medium-term commitment.

Both those firms have now been 'absorbed' into more dynamic organisations, but I'm convinced that the secondary qualifications provided step-changes in my own career progress.

lMike Summersgill is general manager of VHE Technology, a specialist remediation company.

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