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UK faces skills shortage 'time bomb' says report

THE UK civil engineering industry is facing a 'demographic time bomb' that will make Britain reliant on overseas civil engineering skills within a decade, new research has warned.

Over the next 10 years, 15,000 chartered civil engineers - 50% of working civils - will reach retirement age, while only 5,000 to 6,000 graduates will join the profession, predicts Southampton University lecturer in civil engineering Mike Byfield.

His findings are reported in the November issue of the ICE's Civil Engineering journal.

This will significantly aggravate the 'greying' of civil engineering. Between 1988 and 2001 the average age of chartered engineers increased by 3.4 years, from 52.1 to 55.5.

'If present trends continue there will soon be more chartered members aged over 90 than under 30, ' said Byfield.

'Obvious counter measures include a greater reliance on labour from overseas and the gradual transfer of non-technical tasks from engineers to support staff, ' he said.

Graduate numbers are falling because firms are still failing to reward young engineers financially, particularly when it comes to career development, Byfield said.

Blame for the ageing of the profession also falls on the way education is funded.

Engineering courses have fewer students than humanities courses, and therefore get less revenue from tuition fees.

Meanwhile their fixed costs are higher.

Imperial College rector Richard Sykes recently revealed that it loses £2,800 per year for every home student taught.

Foreign students have historically helped balance the books, but numbers have fallen by 40% since 1997.

Byfield added that civils courses also suffer from the industry's 'lackadaisical' approach to research and development and the low priority given to engineering research by government funding body the Engineering & Physical Research Council.

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