Author: Geoff French BSc (Eng) CEng FICE, 149th president of the Institution of Civil Engineers
Some say that an engineer won’t tell you what 2+2 is without asking what factor of safety you’d like built into the answer. Or that an engineer is just someone who solves a problem you didn't know you had – and solves it in a way you don't understand.
So, even where engineers get credit for our technical skills, we’re not always good at explaining how civil engineering is relevant to people’s lives. It’s up to us to change that view.
When the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) was founded in 1818, there were only two engineering disciplines – military and civil – which is why many of our early presidents were mechanical or electrical engineers like George and Robert Stephenson. Today, there are several other engineering institutions, but civil engineering remains a vast umbrella term, with many related specialities falling within it. As a result, civil engineers of the 21st century must possess a wide range of business and interpersonal skills, as well as technical expertise.
The passing of time brings many changes, but some things remain the same. Much as they have always done, civil engineers still have a collective responsibility to extend the horizons of society. Great civil engineers of the past did this: making the impossible possible. But undisputed pioneers though they were, the problems that they faced during the Industrial Revolution are not the same as the ones society faces today.
Engineering solutions have to adapt to always be relevant to the issues of the day. We must always take a long-term approach to dealing with those issues because nobody else will.
That need for a long-term approach means that the days when each ICE President plotted his or her own course for ICE are over. Now, we have an extremely effective Presidential and Vice Presidential team. You could liken the role of ICE Presidents and Vice Presidents to that of a group of guest conductors of an orchestra. We’re all following the same music, but we each have our own ideas about how to produce the best possible performance.
We seek to position ICE as an organisation ready to meet the infrastructure challenges posed by our fast-changing global community and continue extending the horizons of society. We can achieve this by emphasising three key principles that provide an alternative definition of ICE: integrity, communication and engagement.