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Centre for Digital Built Britain

Blog - Roma Agrawal - The Hidden Stories Behind our Structures

Author of 'Built: The Hidden Stories Behind our Structures', structural engineer at AECOM and champion of engineering as a career, Roma Agrawal proposes a skills manifesto to deliver our digital-built future.

The impact of technology on our lives is undeniable. In our sector, we know that the future will demand smarter, more sustainable and resilient infrastructure solutions as default, and importantly, a new generation of digital-savvy talent to design, build and operate them.

But the future is unknown: new technologies will continue to disrupt the infrastructure sector, generating new industries, jobs and approaches as well as making others obsolete.

So what has to change now to help us attract and train the specialists we need for the future of smart infrastructure?

  1. Inspire the next generation

    Although respected, engineering and infrastructure are still not perceived as the most interesting or accessible career choices for many young people. Our industry is also losing talent to other sectors, where higher, more competitive salaries are on offer. To stand out, the story we tell about ourselves needs to change and fast. It needs to be human, impactful and authentic. And it needs to be told more widely.

  2. Drive change

    The benefits of having a diverse, inclusive workforce are clear and well documented. To attract it, however, we need to draw on new faces and voices — people who can speak with authority and authenticity, and engage the talent we’re currently failing to reach. We need to be bold, and we need to be honest with ourselves — challenging outdated assumptions and ensuring we push harder and think more radically to achieve progress much faster.

  3. Evolve to succeed

    Increasingly the infrastructure industry is going to be hungry for people qualified in IT, communications, art and design and life sciences, alongside engineering. As major infrastructure projects grow in complexity and geographic scope, these future infrastructure specialists will need to be equipped to work in and lead multidisciplinary teams, collaborating across organisations, sectors and borders. They will also be expected to use present-day innovations, such as BIM, artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D printing as standard, securing the efficiencies these and other tools can deliver for clients.

  4. Adapt to thrive

    At the same time our organisations will need to become as agile as the work we deliver, and our leadership and management more fluid — evolving with each new project and team. We’re already living and working longer than ever before. Future generations will look to their employers to help them seize new roles and opportunities at different ages and stages throughout their careers. More and more, tech-empowered employees will push to shift their hours and work to the times that best suit their own approach and lives. This potentially marks a transition to more community-based shared workspaces that are used as needed.

Finally, as routine tasks become automated, and AI plays a greater role in our work, it’s our very human abilities to communicate, empathise, collaborate and think creatively that will make us invaluable in the digital built world.


Built: The Hidden Stories Behind our Structures, by Roma Agrawal, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018

Contact: Roma Agrawal