Atkins is aiming to recruit a further 300 graduates in the UK this year, following on from the 330 it brought in last year.
UK and Europe chief executive David Tonkin told NCE that the consultant was proud of its graduate programme and that improved market conditions were allowing it to continue to invest in young people.
“We do take a lot of pride in our graduate programme,” he said. “Last year we took on 320 graduates in the UK and that was a significant achievement. This year we are targeting around 300 more, to work across all our business.”
Apprentices are also a key part of the mix, with another 90 targeted this year, matching the 90 the firm took on last year.
Tonkin was speaking after the firm reported turnover of £1.75bn for the 12 months to 31 March. This was up from £1.71bn the previous year.
Its pre-tax profit grew from £98M to £114M over the same period.
Staff numbers actually fell from 17,899 on 31 March 2013 to 17,489 on the same date this year, but this reflects the sale of the firm’s highways maintenance business to Skanska last October –this saw 1,165 leave the business. Taking just the firm’s ongoing operations into account, headcount was up 6.8% year on year, largely driven by graduate recruitment.
Globally the company hired 500 graduates in the last financial year as well as more than 90 UK apprentices.
In the last year the firm has also created a women’s leadership council to enable the 50 most senior women in the business to support, mentor and encourage the next generation of female Atkins leaders.
Tonkin said he was proud of his company’s push for gender equality, and that he was happy to declare himself a feminist alongside prime minister David Cameron and other enlightened leaders.
“There have been extremes in the way the word feminism has been used in the past,” said Tonkin. “I would like to say that I am a feminist in the centre ground of feminism.”
Tonkin said the firm’s UK performance boosted its European results. Across UK and Europe revenue was up 2.2% to £998.3M with a profit margin of 6.3%. Of this, £922M was made in the UK.
“We saw strong growth for our UK business, in all sectors, but in transport especially,” he said.
Globally, the firm said it “experienced good momentum in our core markets”. It added that the use of its global design centres in India to deliver work for its UK business also enhanced its performance and increased our competitiveness.
Tonkin said he remained “cautiously optimistic” for the industry as next year’s General Election approaches.
He said that with Treasury minister Lord Deighton supporting infrastructure for the coalition government and with Olympic Delivery Authority chairman John Armitt pushing for infrastructure on behalf of Labour there were clear signs that the promised investment would be maintained.
“I still think we should have an infrastructure minister in the Cabinet; someone at the top table, but I am cautiously optimistic,” Tonkin said. He added that he was “very supportive” of Armitt’s work on behalf of Labour to create an infrastructure commission that would set out clear priorities and hold government departments to account on delivery. Armitt is currently working on a White Paper that is due to be unveiled this summer.
“The concept – an overarching body that looks at the needs of the country and works out the priorities and then drives departments to deliver – I am very supportive of,” he said.
“It will be fascinating to see how it will translate into a workable plan.”