NCE podcast with GIRI founder Ed McCann : Fixing the ‘intergenerational low’ in quality of design information

Special registers of civil engineers deemed competent enough to sign off on designs for construction are needed to arrest the decline in quality of design information, ICE vice president Ed McCann has suggested.

McCann, talking on New Civil Engineer’s brand-new podcast The Engineers Collective, says that action is need to address an “intergenerational low” in the quality of design information being passed to contractors from designers.

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“People are talking about an intergenerational low in the quality of design information; they are talking about design drawings that are incomplete, incoherent, uncoordinated and they arrive at site and have to be redrawn and reengineered,” says McCann.

“Lots and lots of people who spend their life building stuff point to problems of that character and they argue that some of the skills that were historically in design teams about producing and co-ordinating information are not there now and they are having to come back and do it as part of a construction play.”

McCann, who led the ICE’s 2018 review into professional skills and also fronts the Get It Right initiative which is dedicated to eliminating error in the UK construction industry, has explored the issue in great depth and points a number of causal factors.

He points to significant changes to the way the industry operates over 25 to 30 years: the abolition of fee scales; the fundamental shift in way work is procured with the shift to design and build; and also the digital revolution in the 1970s when firms started to do computational modelling.

But the core of it, he notes, is contractual.

“If you speak to designers a lot will say ‘actually we are not paid to do this any more’; that ‘our fees are being pressurised and we are having to put a different business model in front of the client with lots of junior staff’. These are the causal factors,” he says.

The solution, McCann moots, could be a special register along the lines of the register the ICE maintains of panel engineers qualified to design and maintain all large and high-risk dams on behalf of the UK government.

“I have a view that I would quite like to see it on signing construction drawings,” he says. “If I wanted to transform construction through a register it would be that you are not allowed to sign off on a drawing until you are qualified to do it.”

Examining this option was one of the more controversial recommendations made in McCann’s Professional Skills review for the ICE and it is clear that he remains keen on it.

“Where the rubber hits the road is when the person signs a construction drawing and is satisfied that this can be safely built; that all of the processes that have ended up with the information on this drawing are trustable and have been done properly,” he says.

He adds that such a role could be a way to engineers earning great respect – and reward – for their efforts.

“I would like to see that person as a person of significance in the world,” he says. “And I would like to see these people being a particular breed and quite valuable.”

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