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The value of professional qualification in focus during presidential visit to the Middle East

20 October 2023

ICE President Keith Howells’ final international visit was to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The value of professional qualification in focus during presidential visit to the Middle East
Keith Howells shared the work of the ICE with the regions.

My final international visit was to the Middle East, beginning with Doha, the capital of Qatar.

Following the hosting of the football world cup last year, Qatar is now planning its next development phase, guided by its 2030 vision.

This includes significant investments in infrastructure as it seeks to consolidate its urban expansion and transition from asset creation to asset management.

Ensuring engineering teams have the skills to deliver

We met with Ashghal, the public works authority, to learn of their interests in the ICE and were pleased to hear that they were keen to sign an agreement with us to help develop their in-house engineering staff.

It was also encouraging to hear that they were now requiring their consultants’ and contractors’ key staff to also have a professional qualification.

We moved on to Kahramaa, the electricity and water utility, to discover that they mainly employ electrical and mechanical engineers but were interested in upskilling their team of civil and structural engineers.

We also discussed whether the Chartered Infrastructure Engineer title would be of interest, and the local ICE team will be following up on this.

Explaining the role of the ICE

Our final meeting in Doha was with the CEO of Qatari Diar, their Sovereign Wealth Fund.

They are major investors in infrastructure around the world and have a group of engineers responsible for providing oversight of their projects whom they would like to professionalise.

We had a wide-ranging discussion on a range of issues, including population growth, climate change and advances in technology.

We explained the role of the ICE in maintaining engineering standards, sharing knowledge and influencing infrastructure-related decision making.

We agreed to follow up with details of how their engineering staff could become chartered.

The Qatar gala dinner at the Grand Hyatt was well attended and provided opportunities for networking and delivering messages about sustainable development and the work of the ICE.

Keith Howells attended the ICE Qatar gala dinner.
Keith Howells attended the ICE Qatar gala dinner.

A huge thank you to ICE country representative Jennifer Stables of AECOM, to the companies who sponsored the dinner (Aecom, Deloitte, KEO, ECG, Attikat, Parsons, Rutherford & Partners) and to the local committee members for all their hard work in organising the dinner and the programme for my visit.

Next stop: Dubai

In Dubai, we started our visit with a meeting of the ICE UAE Committee sponsors (Ramboll, AECOM, AtkinsRealis and Maccaferri) and a number of fellows who are active with the committee.

The discussion was wide-ranging including the economic outlook, challenges and opportunities in the region, legislation needing Emiratisation (and Saudization) of the workforce, and COP 28.

We held a dinner for ICE Fellows working in the UAE in the evening, at which I outlined the ICE’s strategy, and led a discussion on the Enabling Better Infrastructure initiative.

The next morning, we visited Wollongong University Dubai, where I chaired a roundtable discussion on progress towards delivering the Sustainable Development Goals.

I was supported by colleagues online from the UK, Australia and New Zealand, as well as from UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Discussing the importance of professional qualifications

In the afternoon, we visited Jacobs' office in Dubai to discuss the value of professional qualifications.

We talked about what the ICE could do to strengthen relationships with the consultancy sector in the region and encourage more people to become chartered, particularly local Emirati staff.

The following day we met the Mott MacDonald team in Dubai and heard about some of their projects in the region which showcase sustainability and digital innovation.

We then presented on the aims of the ICE, and the importance of professional qualifications.

We followed this with a roundtable at Herriot-Watt University attended by HR professionals from ICE partners in the region and local universities.

We discussed what more could be done to strengthen collaboration between businesses and academia to ensure universities are equipping students with the skills and knowledge required by industry.

We also talked about what could be done to attract more young people into the engineering professions.

We met with Dame Heather McGregor, provost and vice principal of Herriot-Watt University in Dubai, to discuss their plans for COP 28 and how the ICE might participate in some of the fringe events they were organising.

Learning about regional challenges and opportunities

This was followed by presentations from the three finalists of the graduate and student “Step Up - ACT Now Challenge”.

The challenge centred on sustainable development, particularly with regards to water, sanitation and renewable energy.

The MENA region has particular challenges in respect to freshwater resources and the clean energy transition.

But it’s also taking pioneering steps in many areas such as the widespread use of treated sewage effluent (TSE) for irrigation, and the development of large-scale solar farms and nuclear energy.

A big thank you to Arya Ambujakshan and Priscilla Joseph for organising the competition and the presentations.

Giving due recognition

The UAE gala dinner at the Address Hotel attracted around 300 attendees.

Apart from the presentation of certificates and awards, we were entertained by Lord Michael Dobbs, former adviser to British Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

He is probably better known as the author of House of Cards, serialised on TV (UK and USA versions) and winner of five Emmy awards.

A special mention is needed for Richard Barrett, a long-standing UAE committee member and supporter of the ICE who received his Fellowship certificate on the night (about time!).

Keith Howells and Janet Young, ICE director general, attended the UAE gala dinner.
Keith Howells and Janet Young, ICE director general, attended the UAE gala dinner.

Thanks also to Mark Jamieson (outgoing chair) and Steve Yule (incoming chair) for all their hard work in organising the event and running the committee.

Finally, a massive thank you to Ray Al Redha, ICE regional director, and his team (Aurelia, Valentina, et al) for all their hard work in organising the visits, making it all run so smoothly, and expertly shepherding Janet and myself from place to place for the whole week.

  • Keith Howells, president 2022/23 at Institution of Civil Engineers