“We aren’t just a bunch of cardigan wearing civil engineers”

Civil engineering is a broad church, and that was abundantly clear at the recent ICE 200 Australasia Conference (Sydney, 6-7 September 2018).  

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) holds a very special place in my heart, as the first professional intuition I joined not long after my arrival in Australia from the UK. It was through ICE that I had the opportunity to present the Brunel lecture on poverty alleviation, speaking in several countries on how engineers can collaborate to alleviate poverty.  

For over 40 years, ICE has been a big part of my professional career. In those 40+ years, the recent conference was the first they have held in Australia, and I, like many, hope it won’t be the last. 

While this conference was a more ‘traditional’ engineering conference, the topics and discussions were extraordinarily rich, and the audience quite diverse.  

I joined hundreds of delegates, from industry, academia and so on, to hear speakers from companies including Laing O’Rourke, Beca Group, SNC-Lavalin Atkins, Bechtel, Arup, Transport for NSW, and the universities of Sydney and Auckland. 

One thing that struck me is that we aren’t all just a bunch of cardigan wearing civil engineers anymore and the increasing number of female delegates present is an excellent sign for the future. ICE is making good strides in promoting diversity and encouraging women to enter the civil engineering profession. And so it should! 

A consistent theme amongst speakers was ‘The future’, and there was a lot of talk around digital, cities of the future, robots, self-repairing buildings, virtual world and mobility as a service.  

The issue of Australia’s readiness for the future was led by Adrian Dwyer from Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, who gave great insight into why we need economic reform and whether Australia is prepared for future shocks. 

Professor Andrew Harris, Sydney University and Director of Laing O’Rourke’s Engineering Excellence Group gave an excellent talk on ‘The future of Civil Engineering’.  He is very much on the cusp of technology and how it is assisting engineering and construction. 

Events like this conference play an important role for civil engineers, bringing people together to share knowledge, reinvigorate, enthuse. But they also play a key role in ICE’s broader impact – setting out pathways for us civil engineers to build our professional qualifications. It’s what they’ve done for me for over 40 years, and will continue to do for many more people for many more years to come.