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ICE identifies growing need for soft and digital skills

Digital construction

The Institution of Civil Engineers’ (ICE) has highlighted the need for growing need for enigneers to develop soft and digital skills in its professional skills review.

Led by ICE vice president Ed McCann, the review group was set up to explore how skills are maintained, developed and qualified in an environment of rapid change in the working environment. It examined the latest trends in engineering practice and the impact this has had on professional skills.

The review process included a series of market research activities including desk research, a qualitative study that engaged with business leaders and industry experts in key engineering and construction companies. A quantitative survey was also circulated, engaging with 50,000 ICE members worldwide and the review group held a series of workshops to examine and discuss this research.

The report outlines the key findings including the profession’s need to embrace digital technology and how civil engineers should develop the rapidly-evolving skills needed to exploit its benefits. It also found the modern construction industry is increasingly multi-disciplinary and a more flexible approach is needed to encourage people to enter the profession. ”Soft skills” are seen to be lacking among civil engineers in the workplace and the importance of these skills need to be promoted at every level.

According to the report, practical knowledge and skills also remain vitally important for civil engineers. Technical skills, critical thinking and problem solving, and the soft skills of leadership, management and communication topped the list of skills on which civil engineers need to focus, with over 73% of research respondents naming these as the ones which civil engineers need to develop most.

This was consistent across all sectors, career levels and geographical locations. According to the report, skill requirements should reflect the diversity of modern civil engineering, not only focusing on building new infrastructure but also on operation and maintenance, renewal and adapting, and decommissioning of infrastructure.

The report recommends that development of practical skills should be encouraged from the earliest stage. Continuous learning also needs to promoted and appropriate learning resources made available to ensure that civil engineers adapt their skills in line with technical advances and developments. According to the report, the profession needs to embrace digital technology and civil engineers need to develop the rapidly-evolving skills required to exploit its benefits.

Engineers need to focus on developing soft skills too, according to the report, such as communication, management and leadership. Team working is becoming more important, particularly with multi-disciplinary, multi-organisational and multi-national working becoming increasingly normal.

ICE vice-president and chair of the ICE skills review group Ed McCann said: “ICE celebrates its bicentenary this year and we recognise the huge changes that have taken place in the civil engineering profession, with technological, economic and social factors continually presenting new challenges. We want to adequately ensure that civil engineering professionals have the relevant skills needed to fulfil their role in providing society with the infrastructure it needs.

“Our review has found that today’s civil engineers need a greater breadth of skills, including understanding of other disciplines and soft skills. However, practical knowledge and skills remain vitally important ingredients in a civil engineer’s make-up. A culture of continuous learning needs to be embedded more deeply in the profession to ensure that individuals can meet skills requirements throughout their careers.”

Read the full report here

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