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Abroad view

Your career Careers clinic

Dear NCE, I would really like to work abroad, and although I get the impression from many of my peers that an overseas post would hinder rather than help my career, it is a risk I am willing to take.

I have been working with a consultancy for four years and am frustrated that I have not had chance to use the languages (French and Spanish) I learned as part of my civil engineering degree course.

My current employer is fairly small and only works in the UK. Is it better to get an overseas posting with a UK-based company, or to look for work with a local employer - and where are the main areas of opportunity for civil engineers?

Work abroad need not hinder your career. In fact, in the increasingly global economy, and if you manage your professional development effectively, it can only enhance your career opportunities. Overseas experience often provides a high level of responsibility. I would recommend that if you can find an opportunity with an internationally recognised organisation this will look good on your CV and ease your return to the UK.

Costain, like other international construction companies, values overseas experience. Do get chartered before you go though, as this provides an internationally recognised benchmark of your competence and experience.

Jeremy Galpin, HR manager recruitment and retention with Costain, SCE and ICE reviewer.

Demonstrating that one has the flexibility to work overseas should be a positive addition to anyone's CV, provided they haven't changed jobs with alarming regularity.

It can be quite difficult if one goes the whole hog and looks for work immediately with a local employer. During my first year in Switzerland, when nearly all meetings were conducted in German, I remained in a permanent fog about much of the administrative organisation. I had only just learnt German within the Cambridge University Language Programme for Engineers (as the initiator of the programme rather than an undergraduate). If your language skills are better than mine were initially, then this should be less of a problem.

Decide what areas of civil engineering you would like to work in and in what form (consulting/contracting) and then surf the web to discover the major French and Spanish engineering companies and where they are working. You can always submit an application for a job and see what comes out of it. You could also investigate which UK, Irish, Canadian, US and Australian companies are active in French and Spanishspeaking countries and apply to these as well. Utilities companies are often a good bet, as most have design and construction sections.

Professor Sarah Springman, Institute for Geotechnical Engineering, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich As a Frenchman having worked in England for a UK company, working abroad has been a positive experience, and has helped me to find an interesting job in a reputed company back in France. Adapting to a new culture and developing your language skills are more challenging with a local company, and for this reason I would advise you to look for work directly with a local firm.

After a couple of years abroad, your CV will interest Britishbased companies that are thinking of setting up branches overseas. Your ability to work abroad will follow you until you retire, and it will be difficult to refuse further overseas postings.

There are a lot of work opportunities in Europe now, as mentalities are positively changing about employing a 'non-national' engineer.

Antoine Andrei, geotechnical engineer, Fondasol Working abroad offers engineers the chance to tackle exciting projects while experiencing a different, if not always exotic, culture.

True, some people say an overseas posting can hinder a career in the UK, but the positives far outweigh the negatives - not least the tax-free salary. The UK market is buoyant and a shortage of experienced civil engineers means employers are looking far and wide for permanent staff.

Assuming this situation persists for a few years, it will be relatively easy to find employment again in the UK on returning from a short stint abroad.

Relatively few recruitment consultancies deal on a truly international level. If you have no idea who to approach try looking at the back of specialist magazines such as NCE, and contact those recruitment companies with overseas office networks. I'd say that the jury is out on whether it is best to join a local or UK-based company. BBT represents both, supplying competent technical staff to reputable organisations worldwide.

Using your languages will be a tougher challenge than finding work overseas. It depends on your area of expertise, but generally speaking, companies tend to recruit at a more senior level for Latin America and French speaking countries.

The Middle East and Eastern Europe are the two busiest markets for civil engineers at present, and it does help in getting work if you have worked in these regions before.

Edward Twaite, associate director, BBT Overseas INFOPLUS Take a look at BBT Overseas' website (www. for overseas vacancies or contact Edward Twaite on (02077) 828 1555 (or for more information on opportunities for civil engineers wanting to work abroad.

Jeremy Galpin will be happy to discuss overseas career opportunites and any other career development issues on the Costain stand (12 J167), at the forthcoming Civils 2002.

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