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Best for Structured Career Development

Career development is a high priority for engineers when deciding what company to work for – and, as these companies show, employers are responding.

Brian Fitzgerald, group HR development director at Atkins, is probably accurate when he says: "If you ask anybody what’s made their career successful it’s not likely to be
a training course." However, if you ask engineers to prioritise what they are looking for in an employer, structured career development often features in the top three responses.

Fitzgerald’s comment identifies that successful career development is not simply about sending people on courses, but about setting up a culture and framework that allows individuals to follow the path most appropriate to their skills and aspirations. And this is something Atkins has demonstrated in abundance, making it the winner of this category.

"Our philosophy is to try to relate to people as individuals, and to remember that they join Atkins for a career, not a job, so we can give them a variety of different experiences and different skills," says Fitzgerald. "We engage with each individual on what they want to do and try to play to their strengths. That way both the company and the individual benefits from their personal growth."

Essentially, the company offers three career routes – project management, technical and business – each valued equally, according to Fitzgerald. These routes provide a framework, within which employees are given regular reviews and assigned a mentor. But, says Fitzgerald, "this is a framework, not a cage. A lot of our best people have moved between the three areas."

All employees have an annual formal performance and development review when they are given feedback on their performance and key tasks for the year ahead are agreed. As part of the review staff are asked to consider their "aspirations, personal development aims and training needs" in line with the company’s three career routes. In a company the size of Atkins, this process is essential – as well as desirable – but it is only part of the picture. "You can’t just engage once
a year during a review," says Fitzgerald. "The culture of the company reflects the importance
we place on communication."

He believes one of the positive features of the way career development is managed within Atkins is that employees discuss their options with a line manager, not with the HR department. Also vital is the role of mentors, who are required to meet with their mentee regularly – at least quarterly – to discuss what they’ve learnt during the previous period and their plans for the forthcoming months. Mentors also offer advice and encouragement to keep learning.

In response to staff needs the company runs a huge range of training and development programmes, from technical to managerial, under the title "Developing Individuals". This is designed to equip staff with the professional skills and knowledge they need to achieve their personal goals, and is themed around four key areas: technical, people, stakeholder and commercial. The programme includes classroom courses at introductory, intermediate and advanced levels, as well as development through other media, including self-managed learning. This all adds up, Fitzgerald says, to an environment in which staff have the opportunity to enjoy a variety of different experiences and to gain a variety of skills.

A consistent approach at all levels in the consultancy Programme management consultancy

LogiKal was founded in 2002 and since then it has grown to 40 employees. The company is now formalising an approach to career development that has so far proved very successful. This process begins with a "skills assessment baseline", which is carried out by a line manager as soon as a new employee starts. During this baseline assessment the new staff member’s capabilities are matched against the competencies that are expected of them and any missing skills are immediately addressed through the company’s "start-up" programme.

In addition, performance and development targets for the next six months are set and CPD identified to help achieve them. Line managers review everyone’s performance and developmenteach quarter, with a full one-to-one review meeting every six months, as well as a six-monthly 360-degree peer review.

LogiKal tailors training courses to each employee’s needs, with all consultants receiving an average of five days training a year. What makes LogiKal’s approach different from that of other employers is the amount of time dedicated to face-to-face reviews between employee and line manager plus the consistency of the approach throughout the company at all levels. As business operations director Richard Collins says: "The company was built on this process and we value it."

An industry-wide reputation for training and developing employees

Contractors face different challenges to consultants when it comes to providing structured career development as they have to cater for everyone from unskilled school leavers to professionally qualified engineers. BAM Nuttall has managed this successfully over the years, gaining an industry-wide reputation for training and developing its employees at all levels.

While most companies hold annual performance and development reviews for professional staff, BAM Nuttall also runs them for its hourly paid workforce. It uses this process to identify about 50 gangers a year, who are then put through a development programme to prepare them for the managerial role of foreman.

An extensive NVQ scheme, using an in-house training and assessment team, operates from level 2 to level 4 and is offered to subcontractors and suppliers, as well as the directly employed workforce. On the professional side, BAM Nuttall takes in engineers and technicians from age 16 onwards and has a policy of developing and promoting from within.

Three years ago the company introduced a leadership and management programme in conjunction with the CITB, which now includes all junior, middle and senior managers. These programmes have led to the development of a competency framework, designed as the springboard for an employee to launch their chosen career path.

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