Civil engineers need to embrace more diversity of thought, curb their “egos” and stop believing that they know best. This was the strong message from the government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) head of infrastructure performance, Huda As’ad, speaking at ICE's latest Strategy Session: Engineering Rebellion.
Civil engineers need to embrace diversity of thinking and stop hiding behind their egos, [believing] that [only] they know best,” said As’ad as she outlined the huge changes she believes are needed to ensure the survival of the industry. As’ad was speaking as member of ICE’s Engineering Rebellion steering group, which is exploring the disruptive factors shaping the skills and behaviours needed in a civil engineer of the future.
Watch the Strategy Session again below.
As’ad, herself a chartered civil engineer, said that civil engineers needed to be more open to, and mindful of, different technologies, delivery methods and the needs of broader stakeholders.
“Civil engineers of the future, and actually of today, really must be able to assimilate evolving technologies, understand non-linear organisational structures and be more agile in understanding and responding to the entire project landscape – including the P-word: politics,” she said.
As’ad, whose career prior to joining the IPA included delivering major projects before advising on large infrastructure programmes such as the London 2012 Olympics and Thames Tideway Tunnel, said, “a [civil] engineer really needs to be somebody who has a view across the entire landscape and be able to drive project outcomes to meet client and end-user needs”.
The IPA is the government’s centre of expertise for infrastructure and major projects and works with government and industry to ensure infrastructure and major projects are delivered efficiently and effectively, and to improve performance over time.
As’ad said that the industry needed to deliver sustained value for money by becoming more stable, productive and competitive. Changes to contracting methods, organisational structures and leadership are needed to meet these challenges head on.
The Strategy Session was co-chaired by ICE President Paul Sheffield and Engineering Rebellion steering group chair Emma-Jane Houghton.
“Engineering Rebellion was set up [in March 2020] to explore how the profession should evolve to reflect the changing landscape,” said Sheffield. “There are many major disruptive forces that will individually and collectively change the way civil engineers work – climate, technology and Covid-19 are just a handful of these macro factors that are demanding a different response from government, society and from our established systems and networks.”
Houghton, an infrastructure specialist and former Heathrow Expansion Commercial Director, explained Engineering Rebellion’s provocative title was designed to express the project’s transformative nature.
“Who is the civil engineer of the future and how does ICE adapt to embrace them? These are big questions,” she explained. “We need creative thinking from experts in the field to determine what the future of the profession should look like”.
The steering group includes such thinkers from different career stages and from across the project lifecycle.
Also speaking at the Strategy Session was Southampton University Head of School of Engineering Professor David Richards. He highlighted that the increasing complexity of major infrastructure projects would require new ways of thinking and collaborating and therefore demand a change in approach to engineering education.
“We will need a different emphasis on the education of our engineers of the future as they will demand it to meet these challenges,” he commented. Asked if it was time to move away from the traditional entry-level A-level subjects of maths and physics, Richards commented that it could lead to a “homogenised cohort” of undergraduates where “some things could be missed” and posed instead: “How can we focus less on that but also embrace some of the other more creative subjects that will see a more rebellious undergraduate?”
Stressing the importance of digital skills in staying relevant and using data to aid decision-making, PCSG managing director Katherine Bew, drew on the ongoing experience of the current Coronavirus pandemic. “Covid-19 has certainly challenged our agility massively,” she said. “How well have we reacted? How can this learning be taken forward to drive the future for civil engineers, where we can deliver great outcomes in this fast-paced ever-changing digital world?”
Qualis Flow CEO Brittany Harris reiterated the need to use technology in addressing the core function of the civil engineer – to build a sustainable future with a focus on social, environmental and economic sustainability.
ICE President’s Future Leader Hayley Jackson and ICE content producer Anna Plodowski described the methodology of the Engineering Rebellion steering group. The group has devised problem statements that describe the macro factors affecting the future civil engineer, conducted an extensive literature review and researched into future scenarios. It will now begin mapping to personas of the civil engineer of the future to bring the subject to life in a tangible way.
Engineering Rebellion will also point to the ICE projects that need to support the future civil engineer, some of which are already underway, such as The Carbon Project led by senior vice president Rachel Skinner and the Delivering Complex Systems project being led by Systra UK COO Andrew McNaughton.
Work is ongoing and the Engineering Rebellion steering group plans to launch recommendations early in 2021. Get in touch via: [email protected]