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Last Updated: Friday, 7 April 2006, 12:56 GMT 13:56 UK
Sexing up the image of engineers
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Without new engineers, the UK's infrastructure may suffer
Civil engineers are the men and women that keep the UK expanding and working smoothly - and they want more respect.

To raise their profile, a group of industry representatives has launched an initiative to get the profession shown in a more positive light.

Writers are being offered 35,000-worth of prizes to feature engineering characters on stage, screen or radio.

The group is worried that not enough people are being trained as engineers, something that will lead to a shortage.

This may prove a problem in coming years, especially as the UK will need an influx of qualified engineers to oversee large-scale building projects in the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics.

Happy Birthday Brunel

The writing competition is being backed by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors.

It has been timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, considered the greatest British engineer, on 9 April.

Computer generated image of sewer system
Engineers save lives with sewage systems
Paul O'Grady, ICE

"Without future Brunels, our ageing infrastructure will suffer even more in years to come," said Gordon Masterton, the ICE's president. "It still amazes me that the public doesn't realise the importance engineers play in society."

"If either of the Ross or Rachel characters in Friends had been a civil engineer, I have no doubt we would be attracting more applicants into our profession," Mr Masterton said.

According to the ICE, in a recent survey, 10 leading consultancy firms said that they were worried they might not find enough people to cover the work they had.

Another report has shown a 20% rise in demand for engineers and a 20% rise in the salaries they are being paid because of the shortage, the ICE said.

A number of problems have contributed to the shortage, including the "boom and bust" activity in the 1990s that saw many engineers choose different jobs and the closure of some UK university engineering departments, the ICE said.

Paul O'Grady of the ICE said that engineers were often the unsung heroes of society because rather than grab the glory, they "save lives with sewage systems".

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