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Why we need to bridge the lack of engineers

All of us need to engage with the younger generation and inspire them to consider a career in civil engineering.

Schoolchildren build then dismantle a 13m span cable stayed bridge.
Schoolchildren build then dismantle a 13m span cable stayed bridge.
  • Updated: 22 February, 2018
  • Author: Kevin Byrne FICE, Seymour Civil Engineering managing director

It's no secret that our industry is facing a pretty serious skills shortage – one that if not tackled will have a serious impact on the future of the civil engineering sector.

I first started in business back in 1977 when I was 19 and since then the landscape has completely changed. Research shows that the industry in the UK needs to be recruiting in excess of 50,000 engineers a year until 2022 to meet demand. As it stands, we are nowhere near that number.

Apprentice versus graduate

Apprenticeships now reign supreme in our industry and is one of the best routes into the profession.

Graduates always have to start on the first step of the ladder. They have the theory element but don't have the same onsite experience. Apprentices on the other hand, by the time they are at graduate level, are six steps further up the ladder.

They have three years of onsite experience under their belts, gathering qualifications while doing it, and have a valuable position within the company by the time they've finished studying.

We've invested heavily in the training of apprentices, working in partnership with our region's top apprenticeship provider Hartlepool College of Further Education. But the question weighing on my mind is: are we engaging with the engineers of the future early enough? Are teenagers leaving schools with the ambition to work in the industry?

Bridging opportunities

In October we attended 'Bring It On!' – an engineering event which showcased the amazing career opportunities open to young people in the North East.

Within the civil engineering area we exhibited the ICE cable stayed bridge, an activity which gave the school children the opportunity to have a go at building and dismantling a 13m span cable stayed bridge.

Civil engineers design, build and maintain the world around us and make our day to day activities possible and activities like the bridge revealed to younger students the impact that civil engineering has in our modern society.

The bridge exercise was even more impactful as for many of the children the construction of the Northern Spire, a cable-stayed bridge over the River Wear in Sunderland, is happening right on their doorstep.

Stop complaining behind closed doors

It's paramount that young people have a clear understanding of the many different career options in civil engineering. Interactive events and exhibitions give representatives from our industry the platform to demonstrate the scope of opportunities available in the civil engineering sector, educating and inspiring the next generation, who have the capability to close our industry's age and skills gap.

As an industry we need to stop complaining behind closed doors about how things are and instead come together to look at how things could be. Rather than looking to the government or the careers advice services in schools, employers need to take the driving seat and make the changes they want to see happen.

As a branch of the construction industry, civil engineering has modernised into a fully committed, safe and sustainable employment choice. It offers excellent training and development and career progression comparable to other market leading industries.

Technological development is moving at such a rapid pace that once unthinkable schemes are now achievable, as can be seen in all the major global cities. Infrastructure is the embryo of the modern world and its maintenance is crucial. Civil engineers are always going to be required.

I certainly shout from the rooftops that civil engineering is the career to have, purely because I am passionate about its future and I encourage my team to do the same, whenever and wherever they can.

Next generation for the next 40 years

At Seymour Civil Engineering we're celebrating our 40th anniversary and I consider it a priority to ensure that there are enough qualified civil engineers to take it forward over the next 40 years.

As a company leader and ICE Fellow I am driven by both interests to encourage new entrants into the industry. I am totally committed to the training and development of a new generation for the good of Seymour – moreover the industry as a whole.

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