ICE Wales Cymru chair, Peter Burns, discusses how different routes into civil engineering could help improve recruitment in the industry.
I was appointed chair of ICE Wales Cymru at the end of 2022 and during that time I feel I’ve been in a very privileged position.
As I started the post, I was expecting to be doing a lot of talking while performing the duties of this role.
Fortunately, however, I found myself doing a lot of listening!
To fellow members, those involved in our industry, to the public and politicians alike.
I must say, I’ve been most inspired by the early careers, graduates, technicians, and students, whether at college, university or starting out on their career journey.
The excitement, willingness and openness displayed by these young people is an inspiration.
This made me wonder, why are our reported target numbers for candidates into civil engineering falling short?
Supply of suitable candidates
For this discussion, I want to focus on one aspect.
The supply of suitable candidates into our industry is a huge topic, involving education, companies, local, regional and central governments, and bias.
Yes, even bias can play a part!
Let’s start with the statement that ‘our industry requires a quarter of a million civil engineers over the next 10 years or so’.
In Wales, it’s suggested by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) that over 9,000 workers are required in the construction industry between 2023 and 2027.
Wow, these are big numbers!
Incredibly, we do have this sort of number signing up through the college and the university system.
However, the retention levels are reported to be poor. Why is this?
Clearly students leave the system for many reasons.
Let’s explore one, possibly a big one!
Paths into civil engineering
On balance, we could say that some people learn through academic study, while others prefer to learn through experience.
In conversations with students, graduates, and early careers personnel, many talk about their frustration of not being in the working environment as soon as they would’ve liked.
Many prospective candidates suggested their talents and passions pull them towards a more practical problem-solving based approach rather than the academic route they’ve taken.
These individuals are high achievers, clearly accomplishing enough to be accepted into the traditional university system.
However, are they the right person in the wrong place?
Unfortunately, some feel obliged or pressured to take this academic path. Whether it’s by peer pressure or by being led to believe their career path requires them to take this road.
What a shame!
Taking a more practical route that allows these individuals to enter the workplace at an earlier stage, like an apprenticeship, could help their mindset on a personnel level and the industry from a general perspective.
Now the right person is in the right place.
Academia alongside apprenticeships
Let’s make sure we respect the apprenticeship route into civil engineering.
We’re getting there on a personnel level, so let’s do better at a corporate level in respecting the individual and the qualities they bring.
A balanced workforce with academic and technical skills that’s highly professional in its duties and outputs will create a much better blend for the problem solving required in our industry.
It will also improve the retention levels during the early informative stages of a career.
Going forward, our industry is evolving its duties, activities and roles.
New ones are created to adapt and deliver a more balanced, sustainable landscape.
We need to do all we can to inspire and open the doors of opportunity for all.
This can only help to raise the profile of civil engineering as the excellent career choice it is.