How engineering students can sharpen up their communication skills (and win £500)

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If you’ve ever had any discussion about engineering careers (or read any of the articles in our career advice section) you’ll have heard how important soft skills such as communication and teamwork are to securing your first job as engineer.

You could have the most brilliant, innovative ideas but if you can’t communicate them to your colleagues, bosses and – on occasion – the public then you’re unlikely to grab the attention of most employers.

To help students develop these skills and demonstrate what they can do, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) runs an annual communication competition in which entrants are put through the ordeal of a mock-public consultation.

‘It allows students the opportunity to practice skills they perhaps don’t develop in an office,’ says ICE communications executive Lorraine Anthony. ‘A public consultation meeting is something you’ll probably have to do in your career but it’s not taught in any standard curriculum.’

The event isn’t just about politely facing down mock-angry protestors, however. You and your team will be required to put together proposals for a new civil engineering scheme that include detailed documents and a 20-minute presentation.

‘You’ll be marked on whether your printed materials use plain English and explain technical terms,’ says Anthony. ‘It’s not just about who can make the content look the jazziest, it’s more about whether the content explains everything and how the argument is structured.’

‘We also look to check they don’t exploit the strength of one member and that the team work together as a really strong group to answer any questions.

‘Then they get marked on whether their answers were clear and correct but also that they’ve managed the questions well and they treat people as if they are a genuine local resident.’

And while the competition is largely judging these kind of communication skills, that doesn’t mean you can forget about the engineering. When The Student Engineer took part in the judging of last year’s final, the other judges were keen to check that the proposals had been properly thought through and that participants had done sufficient research.

The competition is open to student and graduate young members of the ICE with no more than seven years work experience in industry. The winning team from each regional heat will receive £250 and the finalists will win between £200 and £500 depending on how well they do.

The Student Engineer’s editor, Stephen Harris, will be among the judges at the competition’s London regional heat.

To find out more on how to enter, click here.

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