Engineering Rebellion: shaking up the industry from within

The definition of 'civil engineer' is changing, its future is in the hands of the next generation, and ICE is leading the way.

The modern civil engineer will require modern technological skills. Image credit: Shutterstock
The modern civil engineer will require modern technological skills. Image credit: Shutterstock
  • Updated: 29 November, 2021
  • Author: Emma-Jane Houghton , Engineering Rebellion steering group chair

We are at a critical impasse of a need for change in what we are doing and how we are doing it. From mass consumption to increasing environmental issues, or the fact we are rapidly approaching a global tipping point of more people than resources, it is clear change needs to happen and quickly. Due to all of these issues alongside the technological revolution, the job description of a civil engineer is changing.

Civil engineers no longer solely concentrate on construction and maintaining structures. Instead, they focus on consulting and problem solving, or critical thinking, understanding conceptual design, and the advantages of using and minimising different materials in construction that benefit the project, the local community, and net zero carbon, all at the same time.

The ask of the civil engineer is so much bigger than ever before, and the answer is so much more pivotal. Not only because of the future of the profession, but for the success of reaching net zero and the survival of our planet.

Now is the time to drive for greater productivity

As Ed McCann said in his inaugural speech to the ICE, to meet these goals and critical success factors, now is the time to drive for greater productivity. He highlighted that this meant a greater effectiveness and efficiency throughout the industry is needed in order to survive and thrive as a profession.

I see the improvement of productivity across the global construction industry as a mammoth and exciting agenda for the ICE. It is one that will map the next few years of construction and mould not only the future of civil engineering, but our whole industry for generations to come.

We need to overcome the skills shortage

There are many ways in which greater productivity can be achieved. The first – which is at the heart of Engineering Rebellion – is also imperative in overcoming the inherent skills shortage that the construction market faces.

We believe opening up the civil engineering gates to those with creative, scientific, technological and other backgrounds to form a skills reservoir will alleviate these pressures.

Incorporating diverse educational practices, work experience and training previously deemed different to engineering, could prove beneficial and forward-thinking to the survival of our industry. Not only in the bolstering of our workforce and the increase in diversity across the industry, but also because the meeting of minds in this way could help answer some of the big questions we still don’t have answers to, and bring ideas to the table that could change the industry for the better.

We have begun to see this over the past 10 or so years, where knowledge from the mechanisation of car manufacturing and farming has led to the creation of lean construction, off-site initiatives and the work stream of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) coming to the fore.

Modern Methods of Construction

MMC is a catalyst to reduce waste and enable efficient use of time and resources. But we have only just begun to scratch the surface of its benefits in construction. MMC has received huge support from the UK government through The Construction Playbook, a seminal guide to sourcing and contracting public works projects and programmes. Driving the construction process through MMC is necessary to push the industry to efficiently and effectively and consistently use resources.

MMC can achieve this by stemming not only the over production and wastage of materials, but also of labour, time, money and carbon emissions, therefore increasing productivity across the industry. Civil engineers can play a key part in enabling the aims of the TIP (Transforming Infrastructure Performance roadmap) and Construction Playbook to be realised and the benefits of MMC to come to the fore.

An open dialogue with the next generation of engineers

Since the initial movement in which the Engineering Rebellion campaign was created, we knew that we needed to work closely with the engineers of the future. This is where the decision to build a think tank with the civil engineering students at Bristol University came from.

Having this open dialogue with the next generation of engineers was vital. It proved that engaging and critically thinking about possible future scenarios and the challenges they would impose, meant we were able to come up with diverse ways in which civil engineers could adapt and incorporate productivity to help overcome these challenges.

We don’t have all the answers and we know that we are unable to predict the future; we have always been openly transparent about this and it is exactly why the Engineering Rebellion movement began.

We hope that this campaign will become an avenue for all engineers at any level to discuss uncertainties and the future of the profession. That way, we can communally and collaboratively come up with the combative techniques, ideas and answers needed. Being aware of this is what will push and continue to drive the rebellion forwards and continue to make the ICE, both current and future members, leaders in the industry.

Shaking up the industry

It really feels like we’re shaking it up from within. Which is exactly where the Engineering Rebellion working party and I wanted to be. The ICE has formed the foundations of civil engineering, and it has created and nurtured what we have come to know and love about working in this industry. It’s set the guiding light for best practice since 1889, and created a global group of members that run to the same beat.

However, with technological advancements but a lack of digital transformation within our field; slumping productivity; and the ever-present issues surrounding the climate crisis, the profession needs change. It is abundantly clear that it has to adapt considerably for not only the needs of the present but will also have to continue to adapt to the needs of our future planet.

It has been such an honour to lead this piece, but also a pleasure to work with a group of thinkers that want to change the ‘norm’ and break away from what we’ve always done.

It has been incredibly refreshing to have the ideas and thoughts of the students from Bristol, as they are this profession’s future - and, it is necessary that the ICE make these connections and conversations more fluid between these generational engineers on both a local and global scale.

In doing this, we will be able to collaborate and advance this profession efficiently and effectively to reach the level of productivity that civil engineering, the construction industry and the global climate crisis needs us to reach. 

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