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What trends can we expect to see in civil engineering in 2018?

26 Feb 2018

Accounting for £1.2tn of the UK’s annual turnover, civil engineering is one of the most important- and necessary- industries in the UK. Working in civil engineering is a profession that allows you to innovate, design and create a better future for the people that live in it, connecting up the world that we live in.

Demand for it is also growing. 2017 saw manufacturing demand at its highest level for decades, and the rapid pace of technological change is allowing civil engineers to revolutionise construction methods, improve sustainability and attempt bigger and more ambitious projects than ever before. Last year saw the UK government pledge more than £500bn in investment towards future infrastructure, and this, coming hot on the heels of the announcement for a £23bn National Productivity Investment fund, is galvanising engineers to take advantage of the opportunities being presented to them.

Coming off the back of such a strong year, we can expect to see even more innovation and change in the industry in 2018. Here’s our outlook on which trends will dominate civil engineering in the year ahead.

BIM

There’s no doubt that technology has already changed the construction industry. Our ability to communicate with each other via mobile technology and via the Cloud has already allowed us to create a much more streamlined construction process; this year, we’re expecting to see new inventions like Building Information Modelling really take off. Essentially an intelligent 3D modelling process, it lets engineers create virtual models of their designs, making it easier for people to build and maintain everything from bridges to electricity networks. It also has huge potential for civil engineers, making for a faster and more streamlined design process and giving all parties involved in the construction of civil amenities the chance to see what their design will look like in real life.

Improved technologies

In addition to this, advances in technology have also paved the way for the introduction of increasingly ‘smart’ building techniques. Introducing drones into the construction process to scan building sites means builders can analyse weak spots and collect high-resolution images to input into photogrammetry systems, and from there into BIM models. 12% of the UK’s construction firms are already using drone technology, whilst 3D printing is also taking off, allowing civil engineers to tailor their designs to ever-more specific criteria and even create custom designs and structures.

Smart materials are also making their way onto the scene, with graphene in particular heralded as the next big thing in civil engineering. Only one atom thick, graphene’s honeycomb structure gives it the ability to conduct energy and heat, and gives it unparalleled mechanical properties that have made it a favourite in everything from flexible electronics to creating more thermally resistant roads which are both durable and elastic. Though market supply has of yet been small, it won’t remain so for long: watch this space.

Sustainability

Many companies- and the government- are pushing for sustainable design, and that push is being reflected in the projects currently being developed around the world, particularly in the hot Middle East. Advances in technology are revolutionising this sector, providing civil engineers with long-lasting smart materials, sensors embedded in intelligent buildings, smart electrical grids and more; indeed, one recent trend is for developing zero-energy housing, using double-skin facades to insulate houses, and pairing them with integrated PV panels to create self-powered houses. From recycling plastic into durable roads and playgrounds, to creating multipurpose spaces that can be used for multiple functions, civil engineering is all about planning for the future- and sustainable design looks to be a key part of that.

Opening up the talent pool

Despite a huge UK demand for roads, civic utilities and housing- indeed, the government has put aside £7.2bn to build new homes in the future- the British civil engineering sector also faces a skills shortage. Around 20% of civil engineers are predicted to retire in the next fifteen years, and there aren’t enough entrants into the profession to make up for the skills gap or keep up with levels of demand; in addition, there’s also a large gender gap, with only 13% of UK engineering jobs occupied by women.

Many civil engineering firms are starting to tackle this by opening up the talent pool, as they attempt to encourage UK STEM talent: the Royal Academy of Engineering is running a pilot scheme to increase diversity in engineering, giving students the chance to attend CV clinics, mock interviews, whilst engineers have started coming into high schools to raise awareness of the opportunities offered by a career in engineering.

The industry is starting to widen its net beyond ‘traditional’ engineering talent, looking to hire skilled people from outside the sector, like data scientists and ex-military personnel, whilst also recruiting software and IT-focussed roles to help innovate further and smarter with new technologies and software.

Mega-projects

2018 also looks to be an especially exciting year for civil engineering thanks to the range of mega-projects currently being developed in the UK, like the Thames Tideway Tunnel, which is a six-year infrastructure scheme aimed at reducing sewage overflow from London’s drains to the Thames. With tunneling due to begin this year, expect to see a huge increase in demand for tunneling specialists and talent construction engineers, as well as for highly-skilled engineers to build the Hinkley Point B nuclear station. For those more interested in infrastructure, HS2 and the TransPennine road tunnel are also in development- and recruiting. For people starting out, these mega-projects offer an unparalleled opportunity for engineers to gain transferrable skills, like digital planning, and turn their hand to a range of new challenges.

At PSR Solutions, we’re looking to the future. We pride ourselves on keeping our finger on the pulse of civil engineering, so we can match the freshest talent in the market to the best vacancies. Find out more about what we do here, or browse our vacancies in civil engineering here.