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Trust in me

Analysis - The consultant's role is changing and engineers need to become more commercially aware to keep winning work.

THE INTERNATIONAL market place is interesting for consultants and the role of the engineer within it is changing, according to international rms.

Throughout Europe public/ private partnerships have gained hugely in popularity over the past 10 years. Engineers accept that they are no longer taking on projects simply to make an architect's vision buildable.

Consultants are now in direct competition with contractors, project management rms and management consultancies to be the one voice that clients listen to above all else on such projects.

It is this niche, the role of the 'trusted adviser' to the client, that ms are all competing for. This area was the topic of hot debate at the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) conference in Budapest earlier this month.

Entitled At the Crossroads, discussions emphasised a very real change in the role of engineers.

An awareness of the need for greater focus on project management and commercial skills was high among consultants from western Europe, the US and Australia. Publicly owned consultancies are, at the behest of their shareholders, obliged to chase the jobs with the biggest prot margins, which tend to be found towards the top of the supply chain, closest to the client.

Achieving this is the key challenge for ms. Engineers must become experts at selling themselves as project managers and educate their clients to the high value service that consultants provide.

But this is easier said than done, engineers are modest creatures. 'It is just a question of getting our staff to embrace the necessary commercial aspects of their job without losing their enjoyment for the engineering challenges, ' says Scott Wilson chairman and FIDIC executive board member Geoff French. It is no secret that his company is constantly seeking to educate engineers to be more commercially savvy (News last week).

Reading University professor of construction management Roger Flanagan agrees. He says that this educational development should start before engineers enter the workplace. He feels that engineering degree courses should be changed to give undergraduates business skills. 'We need to train engineers differently, ' he says.

'Whoever talks to an engineer about cash?' According to Yann Leblais, president of the European Federation of Engineering Consultancy Associations (EFCA), the key to success of engineering consultancy in the global market is in getting more engineers into key decisionmaking positions. He points to the example set by China, where seven members of its ninestrong Political Bureau Standing Committee (in effect its cabinet) were engineers by profession.

The mood from the conference was that many top engineers in the UK have already adapted to the idea of becoming the client's trusted advisor.

However, whether there are as many ready and willing to become totalitarian politicians remains to be seen. The absence of civil engineers in the UK's own government indicates that perhaps this is a step too far.

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