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Geotechnics careers: Searching for youth

Geotechnical engineering firms are recruiting graduates with a renewed vigour after the lean years of the recession.

There has been a conscious effort among geotechnical engineering firms or engineering firms with a geotechnical division to invest in youth as the economy has returned to growth.

During the last recession, graduate recruitment programmes were put on hold as financial officers drew red lines through budgets to such an extent that many firms now have a pressing need for an infusion of new blood.


Tunnelling: More graduates needed

Ramboll geotechnical director Stephen West says a failure to recruit new graduates could have a negative impact on the careers of more established employees.

“The graduates who were graduates five or six years ago have grown up, and to retain them we have to have younger staff so they can evolve their particular jobs and take on additional responsibility - it helps push them towards professional qualification.”

As a result, Ramboll has made a conscious effort to recruit graduate level engineers and it’s a similar story elsewhere.

Atkins chief geotechnical engineer Martin Kemp reveals that the company plans to recruit up to 60 geotechnical engineers this year and of those, 25 to 30 will be graduates. Kemp says part of the need can be attributed to a 10 % growth in the geotechnical division and part is down to people leaving the firm and needing to be replaced.

“One area we’ve grown over the last 12 months is our team size in the North of England ”

Stephen West, Ramboll

He says the firm’s ground engineering scholarship scheme is delivering an increasing number of this graduate intake.

“About 30% of [the graduate recruits] came from our ground engineering scholarship scheme last year,” he says. “This year we’re expecting the conversion rate to be more like 40% to 50%, so we’ve already got half the graduates we’ll be looking to recruit in the pipeline.”

Notwithstanding the uncertainty that now exists around certain packages of work for Network Rail, Atkins still has a substantial geotechnical interest in Control Programme 5 (CP5), especially in the form of the electrification of the Great Western line. It is also gearing up for HS2 and has an expanding overseas portfolio of projects in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Energy geotechnics opportunities

“Throughout the recession we picked up a lot of work in the energy geotechnics market,” adds Kemp. “That’s taking a bit of a dip with the oil price dropping but it’s been replaced by infrastructure spend in the UK and throughout the world; no one thing is driving our growth because we have our fingers in most pies.”

For Ramboll, West says the objective is to recruit between five and 10 people, either to replace people who have left, or to increase capabilities in the UK regions.

“A certain number of positions normally become available through retirement or people moving on,” he says. “One area we’ve grown over the last 12 months is our team size in the North of England - it’s strategic as much as anything, because we work as one resource across the UK. It can’t just be one person on their own, it needs to be a minimum of three, maybe four people.”

Kemp says it is gratifying to see British-trained geotechnical engineers returning to work in the UK having headed to Asia and the Antipodes in search of work previously. “Ten to five years ago there was a significant brain-drain of young qualified engineers to Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong,” he says. “This has stopped and we are now picking up UK [nationals] wanting to come back to the UK [who] are looking for senior roles.” 

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