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Time to take a lead

The Engineering Council has a tough job on its hands. The Hawley Report sets out some pretty controversial thinking about how to develop the engineering profession and, more importantly, how it will take a lead role in the process.

Not surprisingly, this has caused ripples within the professional institutions. Each has battled for years to defend its individual power base and when the EngC talks about raising its profile as a representative body people start to worry.

I understand the fears but I also see the need for modernisation. The professions must work with EngC to make this happen.

Clearly there are serious issues at stake and strong points of view, but all parties realise that nonthreatening co-operation is the only sensible way forward.

The process began with the SARTOR reforms to raise the entry level of chartered professionals. This provoked much soul searching debate and in many ways started the modernisation ball rolling. It is now great to see that president Joe Dwyer has rallied the ICE council and put to rest - for the moment at least - what seemed to be an endless debate over the single ICE membership grade.

The discussion had to take place and council members should be congratulated for the way in which this emotive issue has been handled.

But council must now move on. It must tackle the issues urgently affecting the profession. Infrastructure is top of the political agenda: the railways are not working, roads are falling apart, energy policy is in confusion, rivers are flooding in winter and drought threatens in summer. These are tough challenges for the profession. Challenges it is struggling to take up because of a skills shortage, workload uncertainty, procurement confusion, poor training and education. Worse still, fewer and fewer youngsters want to be engineers.

Dwyer recognises that he has to move the debate on to solving these problems. And he knows that if the ICE had done so a few years ago there would have been less need for the Hawley Report into the EngC.

It is not too late. Hawley points out one path to engineering utopia. Not the only path, but if nothing else happens, one that will help the engineering professions get a better foothold with the powerbrokers.

But I believe that a modern, motivated civil engineering profession can offer the UK so much on its own. Of course it needs the regulation offered by the EngC and in certain situations the critical mass. However, civil engineering cuts across so many key areas of life that it is totally appropriate for the ICE to lead the way.

No disrespect to members of the other major institutions - the mechanicals, electricals, structurals and chemicals - but if I were Tony Blair, when it comes to solving infrastructure problems I would want my advice from a civil engineer.

Dwyer's challenge is to mobilise the ICE to put its message across. This will mean having bold debate and taking bold decisions and it will of course mean working with the EngC along the way.

But primarily it will mean empowering the civil engineering profession to make a difference to the nation. And after this debate the key question will remain - how are you helping?

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