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Elevate | Careers in highways

Highways england generic

The roads sector is picking up, with the growing use of new technology creating new career opportunities

The roads sector is looking busy at the moment. Last summer Highways England outlined plans to spend £2.7bn on capital projects in 2018/19.

There will be a huge chunk of renewals works, some projects to improve air quality and cycle safety, and a relatively modest number of jobs classified as Roads Investment Strategy (RIS) schemes.

Meanwhile, the average local authority in England had a budget of £26.2M in 2017/18 to maintain local roads, according to the Asphalt Industry Alliance.

“Roads engineering is a very busy market,” says Richard Gelder, director of recruitment firm Hays Construction & Property. “It’s a big beast and there are lots of places to make a career.”

Skills are key

Landing a job in this sector depends a lot on skills.

“Employers want qualifications,” says Gelder. “They might want someone chartered. Traditionally it is the classic HNC through to degree then IStructE or ICE. Then most people tend to specialise.”

Technical skills come first for employers, Gelder says. “Beyond that it’s about communication and collaboration skills. Civil engineers work with a range of stakeholders; you tend to hear about needing to be a team player.”

Mott MacDonald highways development manager Norrie Westbrook says the firm continues to require highways, structures, pavement, environmental, transport planning, geotechnical and lighting skills to deliver projects in the sector.

Digital skills more widespread

“Digital skills such as building information modelling and software engineering are becoming more prevalent, not just during project delivery but in the design of schemes as they become more integrated with the local environment,” says Westbrook. “Stakeholder engagement skills are also vitally important in the current climate of instant communication and social media.”

The skills requirements are changing, with the increasing use of new technology.  

“There are jobs that don’t exist now but will do in 10 years’ time,” he says. “There will be businesses that just do drone work, for example, that will become multinational firms in 10 years. Driverless cars are another civil engineering issue; roads will have super connectivity. There is a fantastic career in civil engineering for people interested in new technology.”

Big picture

Westbrook adds: “The sector also needs people who are capable of thinking about the whole picture of customer service, wider economic benefits and whole life solutions as it’s no longer a case of just providing a piece of infrastructure that takes people from A to B.”

Prospects are good for engineers in the roads sector. “It’s a pretty well-paid sector with above-inflation pay rises driven by skills shortages,” says Gelder.

Westbrook agrees. “There are jobs, both in the UK and internationally, at all levels,” he says. “There is a particular need for technicians, apprentices and graduates, as well as project leaders.”

  • During New Civil Engineer’s Elevate careers week, starting on 25 June, you can find out what the jobs market is like in the sector you work in. We’ll be publishing online jobs market insights into roads, rail, water, tunnelling and digital. Click here to find out more

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