Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Best for Recognising Technical Talent

A high-quality shortlist shows there are companies in the industry that value, recognise and reward technical talent among their employees.

The three companies that made this category shortlist are consulting engineers with a high reputation for technical expertise both in the UK and globally.

It is perhaps not surprising then – but still gratifying – that in all three firms, technical talent is valued just as highly as aptitude for business or people management, and that the highest levels in each organisation can be attained by someone from a technical background.

The three shortlisted companies impressed the judges enormously, but the winner was Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB), which demonstrated an extraordinary array of methods for recognising and rewarding technical talent. These include a professional leadership programme, awards, practice area networks and a professional growth network.

"What I like about the programmes is that they articulate what’s important to the organisation, and the behaviours and attitudes that are expected," explains Steve Denton, director of bridge and structural engineering. The professional leadership programme, for example, enables staff to achieve internal accreditation at the associate, senior and principal levels by showing they have attained a benchmark level of technical expertise in a chosen field. Denton says it is important that the financial rewards for technical excellence are equal to (or better than) those for managerial skills, and that there are high-profile, visible examples of people doing well in the company having come up through that route.

His own experience is one such example as, being highly articulate and a natural leader, his career could easily have taken a different route. "The natural expectation was that I would go into operational management," he explains. "But I felt that was not the right thing for me or the organisation, so I took the decision to go into the engineering excellence side. "Since I took that decision I have had a couple of the most exciting years of my career, and I think it has been good for me, good for the organisation and good for our people."

Role models like Denton enable younger engineers to identify a technical route to the top, boosted by rewards along the way. For example, anyone who writes an externally-published paper in his or her own time is given £200.

There are also internal competitions to find the best research projects, which are then followed up and funded through the award of fellowships. PB also has both global and regional project of the year awards, which are presented at a prestigious ceremony and publicised widely within the organisation – and which come with financial rewards for the winners. The company is keen to ensure its technical talent is recognised and put to best use at every level in the organisation. One mechanism for this is the system of practice area networks (PANs) – virtual communities that bring together people with expertise or interest in specific areas, to share knowledge.

The company has 55 different PANs operating globally, covering areas such as bridge design, sustainability and tunnelling. "I can genuinely say there’s something for everybody here – a programme that really suits them,” says director of transportation Rachel Skinner. "We’re interested in recognising what that talent means, not creating clones." Denton adds: "People’s careers follow different tracks at different times. We encourage people not to see these three pillars [technical, project management/delivery and operational management] as discrete things because the business needs a bit of everything. We want that breadth, but we also want to celebrate people who get to the top in their area."

Mott MacDonald senior geotechnical engineer Fleur Loveridge describes the company as being "stuffed full of people who are leaders in their field and who I can learn from. There is no strict path set down for people to follow; the options are there. I’ve never felt that I’ve been pushed to go in any particular direction."

The industry gurus to whom Loveridge refers have been harnessed by the company as "practice leaders" who can take a global view across their discipline and see the bigger picture when it comes to individual projects – advising project managers and helping them to allocate the appropriate resources.

Mott MacDonald has also introduced a team-based project review process called "peer assist", under which an experienced mentor encourages a project team to exchange concerns and ideas. The aim is to help team members examine the way the project is progressing, and encourage all members of the team – however junior – to take ownership of the project and have the opportunity to help find the best solution.

The company’s philosophy is summed up by Mott MacDonald director and tunnelling expert Alan Powderham, who says: "I have always said that I would like to stay technical, and I have been encouraged and allowed to do this. When I was made managing director of a division I used other directors to do some of the management while I continued to bid for projects and run them."

"In many companies there’s an assumption that you have to go through managing people to become part of the management," says Jeannie Edwards, director of human resources at MWH, adding: "That’s a huge devaluation of people’s technical abilities." According to Edwards, technical talent is both recognised and rewarded at MWH, with a career structure that allows "technologists" to reach the highest level within the company. Technical knowledge is highly valued, and there are initiatives – such as the Company Knowledge Conference – to drive technical excellence throughout the company.

Civil engineer Leonie Von Hellermann says MWH offers "platforms for all the things that inspire and interest you", such as knowledge forums, mentoring and internal awards for publishing technical papers and for innovation. "The culture is all about promoting your talent and skills," she says. Water specialist Richard Ratcliff is pursuing a technical career path, and has the title of global technology leader within the company. "Some people like to manage other people or manage processes, and some want to become industry experts," he says. "I have been allowed to focus on being technical. We need technologists to win the work and get on with it." Andrew Cowell, MWH’s director of UK operations, adds: "The only way we’re going to keep our reputation is to keep a leading edge in technology."

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.