Workloads may be increasing in the geotechnical sector but this is leading to concerns about a skills shortage in the industry.
Arecent survey of the geotechnical industry revealed widespread feelings of optimism about the sector - 67% of the ground engineers surveyed in NCE sister title Ground Engineering’s annual Geotechnical Services File predicted 2015 would bring an increase in workloads.
Van Elle group CEO Jon Fenton says, “The industry has been booming over the last 12 months and we have seen improvements in our margins,” he says. “Our average job value doubled in 2014 compared to 2013 and also more work went ahead with less speculative tendering.”
But as demand in the sector improves, the skills shortage seems to be deepening with 62% of respondents rating the issue as their primary concern. With 57% reporting issues recruiting in the last 12 months, the challenge is real and not improving.
“Recruitment has been a challenge and it is not easy to find good people, and we have had to raise salaries in order to secure staff in some circumstances,” says Fenton.
“Main contractors also have the same issues around staff and dealing with under-qualified people has complicated some of our work.”
Some have taken the same approach as Van Elle with 47% of firms reporting using salary increases in order to retain key staff. This trend and the levels at which shortages are most acute can be seen in the salary survey with the greatest rise at 15% seen in the geotechnical specialist (Register of ground engineering professionals) category.
Average salaries for geotechnical advisors also rose by 7% whereas rises in graduate and geotechnical professional salaries were more in line with inflation.
“It’s great to see an abundance of graduates and trainees in the market, but this needs to be balanced with more senior engineers,” says ESG infrastructure services managing director Jim Murphy.
The skills problem does not look set to be resolved in the near future with 55% of respondents planning to increase staff numbers in the next 12 months, with no one planning to downsize.
Data on salaries and staffing issues has proved to be critically important to meeting the industry’s future recruitment needs with some of the information supplied to government.
This has been used by Ground Forum to justify the position of ground engineering professionals on the Home Office’s Shortage Occupation List which eases the work permit process of recruiting overseas employees. Ground engineering has been on the list for over 10 years and is regularly scrutinised to ensure it continues to have priority for work permits over non-shortage occupations.