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The whole world needs a civil engineer - get used to it

There is no getting away from it – civil engineers are in demand globally and all the indications are that the trend is set to continue, says NCE's editor, Antony Oliver.

Certainly we have long been discussing the UK's professional skill shortage and last month' ICE State of the Nation report – somewhat dangerously in my view – flagged up the profession's (if not necessarily the industry's) concerns over economic deliverability of major projects if the trend continues.

Yet the UK is by no means alone. This week's NCE report on construction activity in the Gulf highlights the scale of the infrastructure challenge across all six of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states – with fees earned by UK consultants last year mushrooming to over half a billion pounds.

In particular the NCE survey flags up the consistent difficulty faced by all contractors and consultants across the region to find and keep capable staff. The reality is that with £92bn of work on the go and another £462bn in planning, across the GCC it is a problem that is unlikely to disappear any time soon.

And it's a similar situation across the globe – India is booming, China is awash with projects and the UK profession is at the heart of the activities.

All things considered this must be a pretty good time to be a civil engineer. Whatever your experience or discipline, it seems that if you are prepared to travel around the globe, there are no end of fantastic career (and bank balance) enhancing opportunities for you.

But don't necessarily expect an easy ride. Life for civil engineers in the Gulf right now for example, is pretty full on. Yes, the reward is there – with better pay than you could attract in the UK, a decent climate, living and working conditions – but don't expect to necessarily have much time off to enjoy it or a particularly inspiring work-life balance.

However, most engineers that have worked abroad site the period as crucial to their career development and the period the really "made" them as engineers.

Without question the career challenges faced by engineers in the Gulf to deliver sustainable designs against a backdrop of rising prices and increasing need to make a commercial return will be extraordinary.

The net result of this increasing global civil engineering activity for UK professionals can therefore only really be increased pressure on the home market.

So bearing in mind the scale of projects on the slate across the UK over the next couple of decades, the industry must react. We must focus less on warnings over lack of capacity and more on taking positive steps ensure the best young people see civil engineering as the decent career that it is - globally.

- Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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