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This week we ask: Is civil engineering of interest to young people?

Youth Debate

Latest figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service of a 5.3% drop in applications to civil engineering courses over the last year confirm a continuing drop in interest to study civil engineering.

Yes

Saffron Beetham

People who believe that children have no interest in civil engineering either have a jaded view of the profession themselves or have never taken the time to present aspects of it to a group of children in an interactive, practical and challenging manner.

Ask anybody who has actively and strategically promoted the profession within primary and secondary schools whether children have enjoyed building a model bridge as a team in their playground or competing to design the best earthquake resistant model building and they will tell you that they had nearly as much fun as the kids.

National Construction Week in October generated 415 activities across the country in which 30,000 schoolchildren took part.

The decision to repeat the event in 2002 reflects its value within both schools and the industry.

'Family days out and school trips wouldn't take place if children were not interested in learning about science, history, architecture and transport.'

Books, toys, games and competitions, web pages and engineering clubs are other ways through which children learn about civil engineering.

Family days out and school trips to museums wouldn't take place if children were not interested in learning about science, history, architecture and transport, all of which introduce civil engineering in different guises.

TV documentaries such as 'Building the Biggest' and 'Why Buildings Fall Down' are pitched at a level that young people and indeed, people of all ages, can enjoy and learn from.

Children are made aware from a very early age of civil engineering related issues such as transportation, renewable power sources, pollution and recycling.

In fact, young people have more of a vested interest in the environment than ever before.

Civil engineering is not an obvious career ambition for most young people, but this is due to the lack of knowledge about what a career in the profession would involve. It is not due to the lack of interest in the world around them or lack of desire to make that world a better place.

Fortunately, the industry is taking all the right steps to address this problem by promoting civil engineering throughout schools and colleges across the country.

No

David Rowley

From time to time, I receive very pleasant invites to nice events.

One such event was just prior to Christmas when the venue was One Great George Street, home of the Institution of Civil Engineers for the NCE annual cocktail party.

What a great opportunity to show off what we do with the Young Engineers Network to promote all sectors of engineering, including civil. And then the fun began. 'Oh, can you bring some students who have undertaken a civil engineering project?'

After making extensive enquiries around the network, my problem was identifying a suitable project. What, no civil engineering? I hear you ask.

What is wrong with Young Engineers? Electronics coming out of my ears, automotive of every power derivative, marine projects, including submarines for the Royal Navy, lots of disability aids and even an automatic road cone dropping machine that will reduce the number of gaps seen on the motorway between shirt and trousers. But panic. Why haven't we got lots of examples of kids doing things with civil engineers?

A quick glance around the walls of the ICE headquarters and you can't fail to be impressed by the names - Telford, Bolton, Stephenson and Brunel - and the legacy they have left, despite there being no women.

But who are the present role models now that it is the team approach? I asked a group of 12 year olds to name me a famous engineer. Kevin Webster was the reply. 'Kevin who?' 'The one in Coronation Street, ' they said. 'I think Len Fairclough was a builder, ' said the teacher. 'Any others?' I asked. Dyson and the wind-up radio man, Trevor Baylis.

At last a response I was looking for. Hooray, but no civil engineers! What about a career designing buildings or bridges, surveying or planning the future towns and ensuring we protect the environment? 'Not really thought about that, ' was the collective response. 'Anyway, it's mucky and dangerous!'

'I asked a group of 12 year olds to name me a famous engineer.

'Kevin Webster' was the reply. 'Kevin who?'

'The one in Coronation Street, ' they said.'

The facts

lNCE's debate 'Civil engineering is of no interest to young people' will be continued at Civils 2002 on the morning of June 11. Rowley's debating partner will be Andy Breckon, chief executive of the Design and Technology Association and Beetham will be partnered by Jonathan Goring from Symonds.

www. civils.co.uk lIn April

NCE will publish a survey of construction skills and engineering courses being run at schools and universities.

NCE publishes Insight, a magazine for young people at the beginning of each school term. www. nceplus.co.uk

The Young Engineers network has 1,500 clubs operating in schools and colleges with a membership of over 10,000 students. They are supported by engineers who act as advisers and role models, and teachers who act as club leaders.

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