In 1989 a school leaver reading NCE could have formed the impression that civil engineering, and the accompanying salaries, would continue in an upward spiral of Channel Tunnels, motorways and Canary Wharves. Indeed, many school leavers looking for a technical career decided on civil engineering and settled down to three or four years of hard graft on demanding degree courses.
However, when they came out the other side, the world had moved on, but without the need for large infrastructure projects. The result - too many civil engineering graduates chasing too few civil engineering jobs.
Fortunately, a civil engineering degree gave these graduates other skills that employers in IT and finance could readily use and so a generation was lost to the industry.
School leavers reading NCE in 2001 would likely form a similar impression to their predecessors (even Canary Wharf has seen a resurgence in tower building).
However, at this point their careers advisor might remember recent history and suggest that a career in civil engineering would be subject to boom-bust cycles and may not be able to produce a job in four years time.
If we juxtapose the situation in Ireland today with mainland Britain during the late 1980s, there are a number of similarities which are readily apparent, such as increasing salary levels, chronic skills shortages and spiralling living costs. However, the important difference is the willingness of the Irish government to commit to a national spending plan for the next five years.
The willingness of the Irish government to plan ahead in the long term is likely to give Irish civil engineering students confidence that there will be further strategic planning, providing continued public and private sector growth and hence future long term jobs.
IG Jackson (M), 16 Danesfort, Old Kilmore Road, Moira, County Down BT67 0SG, Northern Ireland.