Professor Mike Riley

Universities are sometimes criticised as “degree factories” where lecturers pay scant attention to their students. If such stereotypes even remotely applied to Professor Mike Riley, he wouldn’t have lasted six months let alone 33 years.

Mike is Director of the School of Civil Engineering and Built Environment and is fiercely proud of his territory. For him, the first in his family to go to university, its personal.

“My dad was in the steel works and mum was a cleaner. I did better than I thought and managed to get a place in grammar school on the Wirral. I choose three A-levels at random and had no idea what I wanted to do.”

He toyed with the idea of architecture but hadn’t done art, so fell into a degree in building surveying at Salford. And loved it.

Looking at his students today, Mike sees in many of them a reflection of himself. “They’ve done maths and physics, and a bit of CDT (draft, design and technology) at school but, like my younger self, are unsure about the wide world of building and construction.

“A lot of them are also the first in their family to go to university, so it’s my job, our job, to guide them along their way, so they can be who they want to be.

“That doesn’t mean pushing them down a specific road, its more about giving them the tools to be the best they can be.”

Since the founding of the College of Building in 1951 – known colloquially as the ‘College of Bricks’ – and then based in Clarence Street, the school has worked hand-in-glove with industry to train the civil engineers, surveyors, designers and project managers to power private and public construction.

“We’re totally wedded to industry, partly because the professional exams are a central component of our programmes, but we are also directly servicing an industry. We’re really connected, regionally and nationally. It’s something we work really hard at.”

For Mike, the industry has more than paid back his faith in that choice he made as an 18-year-old. “It’s a fabulous field because you’re making things but also working with lots of great people. I remember my first industry job designing pub interiors for Bass, and I was working with a team of young, creative people, which was fantastic.”

Construction has taken him from housing to health to railways and to almost two thirds of globe! But despite external offers of high salaries, Mike has always chosen to stay.

“Outside you might churn over money but here we’re changing people’s lives – that’s the kick I get from it.”

– Professor Mike Riley

“There’s a great culture at LJMU which allows you to have one foot in the theory and knowledge and another in practice.

“It all means that our graduates get a real sense of the job they will be doing and come out with analytical skills which is vital because every challenge in construction is different. You’re faced with uncertainty all the time. Our graduates can work with incomplete data sets and still make judgement calls.”

He is at pains to make a further point, that it is a myth that construction is more suited to non-academic minds. “It’s a total misconception. Take a look at the Burj Khalifa or another 2,000ft building and say that’s not a complicated feat of science and engineering!”

So, what about the next decades? “We’ll see growth in all areas concerned with the environment. I suspect we’ll be dealing a lot more with issues around geo-spatial systems and AI, climate resilience engineering, and the implications of renewables on construction.”