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ICE, Covid-19 and our future direction

05 August 2020

In his latest blog, ICE President Paul Sheffield looks forward, post-Covid, to the economic and social landscape and what it will look like for both ICE and the industry at large.

ICE, Covid-19 and our future direction
ICE President Paul Sheffield

My involvement with a number of businesses trying to navigate their way through the disruption caused by Covid-19 puts me in a good position to see the problems it has created across the country and other parts of Europe.

Whilst perhaps 20% of businesses have probably seen workloads boom in the last four months and maybe 40% have been able to adapt by asking some of their staff to work from home - there are another 40% for whom recovery will be hugely difficult and challenging.

Fortunately our industry doesn’t quite come in to that third category, although we are of course bound to be affected by the changes in demand for transportation infrastructure and office/retail space as time moves on. As an organisation, ICE has had to be fleet-of-foot to try and predict how the global pandemic will affect it and its funding - and then to make sure we adapt our model to suit a new and reduced budget.

Our commercial business model

Traditionally a significant part of our funding comes from the commercial activities of Thomas Telford Ltd and of course their profitability has been significantly affected by this - particularly their ability to hire our prestigious rooms and host functions at our Great George Street headquarters.

One Great George Street is a venue that has won worldwide acclaim, voted the world’s most prestigious conference venue in 2015 and best wedding and dining venue in London more recently. This inevitably has an impact on the budget available to ICE to achieve its aims and to service our 95,000 members across the world.

As with many businesses we have had to re-organise the way we do things and that has sadly meant that a small number of our permanent staff will leave the business. However, with the success that we have had with the Council inspired Strategy events through the early part of the summer, all of which have been held 'virtually' on a WebEx platform and with seven lectures and discussions having attracted over 5,000 people to tune in, we are confident that we can actually deliver a better quality programme of informative and strategic events that will better serve our membership - wherever they are in the world. And of course, all delivered very efficiently and with a negligible carbon footprint.

Council meeting update

ICE Council members 2020
ICE Council members 2020

At the Council meeting last week we had the chance to discuss the programme of events over the next year and agreed that our critical priority is to collaborate with others to drive real progress in realising the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and we agreed that the best way to do that would be to address the following:

  • Placing the de-carbonisation of our industry at the heart of our agenda;
  • Working with others to adapt and provide resilience to the significant effects of climate change;
  • Transforming the availability of potable water, sanitation and clean energy across the world;
  • Transforming the productivity of our industry by driving modern methods of procurement and manufacture, establishing data and digital technology at the heart of global infrastructure;
  • Enhancing the knowledge, insight and ethical understanding of engineers wherever they work across the world.

Mapping across these workstreams is a series of discussions that will be put together to bring to you in the coming months. With accessibility through web platforms, these lectures and debates can be accessed by any member anywhere in the world.

Council also had the opportunity to discuss two other really important topics:

  • How do we improve member engagement
  • Voting rights for ICE members

Improving member engagement

The first of these is a long-standing issue and we saw in the recent Council elections that only 7% of the eligible voting members did actually take the time to vote. It was agreed that ICE should tackle the misconception that becoming professionally qualified is the pinnacle of your career and should really promote the benefits that members receive post qualification through CPD and access to lifelong learning.

It is likely in the 'post-Hackitt' world, that there will be a significant increase in scrutiny of people’s competence to be involved in certain types of high-risk construction. ICE should also better support members as they move from technical employment to management employment and on into strategic leadership.

On voting rights - this again is an issue that has been around for many years and will be fiercely debated in the future too.

Providing good quality learning materials

Professional qualifications are a stepping stone in most people’s career as a civil engineer and I reiterate that ICE should really make sure that the on-going provision of good quality learning material is available to further their careers beyond that step. Graduates are highly intelligent and articulate people and having obtained a high quality degree that puts them on the path to Chartership, they rightly feel that they have the enthusiasm and potential to help guide and steer the Institution in the future.

They rightly challenge why they are not permitted to vote on matters other than graduate elections to Council. They are old enough to vote in Parliamentary elections (nothing new there), they are bright enough to hold a degree (again - nothing new there) and they are passionate about the world we will inhabit tomorrow and how we help protect it for future generations.

We heard many arguments in favour of extending voting rights to graduates and for withholding them until fully professionally qualified. Ultimately any such change would have to be put to a ballot of members - and of course only members entitled to vote on such matters would be able to do so (i.e. not graduates). The challenge to Council was that if they want to seek to put this to a ballot - they really need to engage with the membership so that we really do mobilise people in large numbers to vote on it.

As a start to this process it was agreed that we would set up a web based debate and invite members to attend (hopefully in their thousands) to truly gauge their feelings on what might be quite an emotive issue.

The outcome will be fascinating to see.

  • Paul Sheffield, President 2019-2020 at ICE