Lars Andresen, CEO of NGI – Norwegian Geotechnical Institute
Olav Bolland, Dean of NTNU
Ingrid Dahl Hovland, Roads Director, Norwegian Public Roads Administration
Stine Ilebrekke Undrum, Executive Vice President Development, BaneNor
Grethe Bergly, CEO of Multiconsult
Kjetil Lund, Director, NVE
Liv Kari Skudal Hansteen, CEO of the Norwegian Federation of Consulting Engineers (RIF)
Those of us who work on geotechnics and engineering geology can see that there could soon be a serious shortage of specialists with this knowledge in Norway. That is why we are now joining forces to show you how important these areas are to us as a society. Above all, we want to show you how challenging and interesting it is to work on ways to build on, in or with soil and rock.
The pharaohs’ trusted experts
Ever since the very first urban civilisations, man has struggled to develop building technology that can ensure that buildings and infrastructure are safe and solid. The people who lived in antiquity developed building materials from what they found in the ground, and they were very aware of the interaction between different soil conditions and building materials. In ancient Egypt, the people who had special knowledge of water and ground conditions were ranked just below the ruler, the pharaoh.
Norway has demanding environmental and soil conditions
In today's society, the importance of solid geotechnical knowledge plays no less of a role than it did in antiquity. Buildings and other infrastructure are becoming larger and more complex. For Norway, this applies to everything from roads, railways, bridges, buildings, tunnels and other underground facilities on land to infrastructure, offshore wind and aquaculture. We are building more densely than ever, and areas with “straightforward” ground conditions have already been developed. Moreover, climate change is increasingly affecting the risk picture, with an increased danger of floods, landslides and rockfalls. These challenges mean that we need constant research to gain more knowledge and to be able to further improve how we can build securely and sustainably.
Great demand for professionals
More stringent requirements for engineering, sustained high levels of activity in the construction, transport and energy sectors, and the effects of climate change have increased the workload for geotechnicians and engineering geologists over the last few years. Unfortunately, the current capacity within geotechnical engineering creates bottlenecks which stand in the way of progress in many construction projects. The White Paper on landslides and floods shows that the shortage of geotechnicians will be further exacerbated when large graduate cohorts from the 1970s retire.
Unfortunately, importing labour is not a quick fix to solve the capacity problem. Geotechnics relies very much on building experience and on national practices that are adapted to the ground conditions we live with and on. For example, the challenge of quick clay is specific to Norway and sadly not part of the curriculum for a Chinese or Spanish geotechnician.
Knowledge base for Norway's second largest industry
The construction sector is Norway's second largest industry. In 2019, public-sector clients invested around NOK 250 billion. The transport budget for 2021 is NOK 80 billion and will increase under the recently presented transport plan. The demands on the industry for new expertise, technology and innovation are increasing. The environmental and climate requirements have become stricter.
Good knowledge of geotechnics and engineering geology is perhaps the most important key to the success of construction projects. However, if we are also to continue to supply the technical arms of large companies, Norwegian municipalities and engineering consultancies with qualified staff, educational institutions and authorities need to invest in these classical subjects and more people must choose to study geotechnics, engineering geology and other engineering-related geosciences.
The Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI) is a leading international centre for research and consulting within the geosciences. NGI develops optimum solutions for society, and offers expertise on the behaviour of soil, rock and snow and their interaction with the natural and built environment. NGI works within the markets Offshore energy; Building, construction and transportation; Natural hazards, and Environmental Engineering. NGI is a private foundation with office and laboratory in Oslo, branch office in Trondheim, and daughter companies in Houston, Texas, USA, and Perth, Western Australia. NGI was established in 1953.