It is quite clear that society requires a large number of civil engineers to design, build, administer and maintain its roads, railways, water supply, sewerage system, power stations, ports and telecommunications infrastructure among other tasks. The great majority of those tasks do not require a deep and intuitive understanding of the behaviour of structures or the exercise of aesthetic judgement. It is important that these engineers be well trained, as they are in positions where they can make a significant contribution to society, and the more able among them are likely to attain positions of influence in the private sector or in government. Other engineers will become specialists in a wide variety of technical disciplines, such as geotechnical engineering, dynamics, information technology, wind engineering etc.
A minority of those who opt to train as civil engineers will become the designers of structures which, in addition to their utilitarian function become part of the built environment. This minority requires different training from the majority. They need to develop an intuitive understanding of the behaviour of structures, a thorough understanding of the nature of the various building materials, and an appreciation of the appearance of their structures.
This distinction is recognised to some extent by the profession in the United Kingdom. The Institution of Structural Engineers, with a membership of chartered engineers (MIStructE and FIStructE) in the UK of approximately 9,000, caters for the minority of designers, and the Institution of Civil Engineers, with a chartered UK membership (MICE and FICE) of approximately 36,000, represents the majority of more general civil engineers. In order to become a member of the Institution of Structural Engineers, suitably qualified graduates with about three years experience in industry have to pass an examination that tests their knowledge as designers of structures, while similarly experienced graduates applying for membership of the Institution of Civil Engineers are subjected to a written assignment that tests their more general suitability to take professional responsibility. However, the distinction is blurred, with many engineers being members of both institutions, and some designers being members of the Institution of Civil Engineers only.
The specialisation of designers is also recognised in many other countries, where engineering graduates wishing to take responsibility for the design of structures have to pass an additional examination some years after graduation, giving them a title such as Professional Engineer.
The distinction between general civil engineers and designers remains inadequately recognised by the profession, by the universities and by society. Being a designer is almost a separate profession from that of general civil engineer. If one were to imagine the spectrum of skills required in the building industry, extending at one end from an architect and at the other to a director of a civil engineering contracting firm, the bridge designer would cover a wide range, but his centre of gravity should be closer to the architect than to the contractor.
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