In 1818, three people came together to discuss solving societal problems. They were engineers who wanted to share ideas and create solutions to build for the needs of people. Their group formalised to become the ICE, which will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2018. Since its founding, the institution has been a bastion of communal knowledge; generations of engineers have studied together, learned from each other, and debated new innovations.
But as time has moved on, the way we create infrastructure has revolutionised to an extent that the founders could scarcely have contemplated. A modern structure or tunnel is a complex web of different elements which requires a mixture of disciplines and expertise. A typical building is designed by a combination of engineers, architects, technologists and other disciplines which didn't even exist two centuries ago. So we must ask ourselves, what will the civil engineering profession of the future look like?
As we've seen these last 200 years, I believe the future will herald more and more disciplines and specialties within the broader profession that designs and builds infrastructure. We today can only imagine what innovations and therefore disciplines might exist in another 200 years. These professionals may have varied educational backgrounds, qualifications and job titles. With this inevitable evolution, I believe that to remain current, the ICE needs to embrace a more diverse membership.
To do this, the ICE needs to take a wider approach to their definition and expected qualifications of a civil engineer. This broader ICE will bring specialist knowledge and experience to current members of the institution, making them better at their jobs. The danger is that without broadening the scope, the ICE may become so narrowly defined, that it becomes increasingly irrelevant as the modern world evolves quickly around it.
Aged 16, I decided to study physics at university. During a work experience placement, surrounded by mechanical engineers designing equipment for CERN, I decided I wanted to be an engineer. I studied a masters in structural engineering. During this time, I approached the ICE to ask about graduate membership. I was denied because of my degree choices.
Fast forward a decade, and I have designed and built buildings, train stations, and bridges. I helped design the foundations and crown of the tallest structure in our country. I have promoted our profession - presenting to over 10,000 people, in newspapers and magazines, and on television. I have just submitted a manuscript for a popular engineering book to tell the world some of the amazing stories of how engineers have solved challenges throughout history.
Am I adding to the collective knowledge and progress of the civil engineering profession through my work? If yes, then I should be part of the ICE. I should not be excluded simply because of a choice I made when I was a child of 16. It should be the quality and impact of the people who are contributing that should matter, not the route they chose. There is already a huge contingent of people without civil engineering degrees that are shaping the future of civil engineering, and the ICE needs to make them a part of the conversation.
This month, ICE members are voting on a proposal that would make the Associate Member (AMICE) grade accessible to a wider group of built environment professionals. I believe this is a good first step in embracing a more diverse membership. If this proposal succeeds, professionals who work in the built environment will be able to participate in the exchange of knowledge within the ICE, which will benefit everyone. I believe that widening membership will make the ICE more relevant, more credible, and a stronger united voice for infrastructure.
Roma Agrawal MA (Hons) MSc DIC CEng MIStructE MIET FRICS is a design manager at Interserve.