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Roads: Pedal to the metal

Highways England’s five year investment plan has given highways engineering companies the confidence to start recruiting new candidates.

In April this year, Highways England officially replaced the Highways Agency. Shortly before its launch, the new government company published a five year investment plan in an attempt to convince the supply chain that it meant business. It realised that if it was going to deliver what chief executive Graham Dalton described as “the largest investment in roads since the 1970s” it had to convince contractors and consultants to start recruiting the necessary staff.

Two months later and there are signs that engineering firms have indeed taken the announcement of the five year plan as a cue to start hiring.

“I think the move towards the government-owned company has been a big boost because it does give us a greater level of confidence in terms of the budgets that Highways England will have to spend,” says CH2M highways regional practice manager for Europe Andy Everest.


Driving recruitment: Employers are looking for staff following publication of the five year road spending plan in April

“We’re currently standing at [a highways workforce of] 338 staff, having started the year at 320, and our growth targets are around trying to get 50 people in this year.”

Everest says the company’s highways division is recruiting across “all skill sets”, including graduates, apprentices, programme managers, project controllers and project automation leads. But he says designers with experience of building information modelling (BIM) and integrated transport systems (ITS) are also at a premium.

With so many companies vying for staff, CH2M talent acquisition specialist for highways, Allan Clark says employers have to prove that they have the projects to attract the right talent.

“When we speak to candidates, they want to know about the projects, the challenges, the type of work and the technology,” he says.

“We’re looking for highways design engineers, but we also have a big focus on bridge design engineers at all levels”

Steven Smith, WSP

In the case of CH2M, Everest thinks the ability to reference projects like the A9 improvement and the Aberdeen Western peripheral route, both in Scotland, and the Lower Thames Crossing in the South East are helpful when it comes to attracting the best talent. “All of these things are key projects that candidates like to get on their CVs,” he says.

WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff is also planning to recruit large numbers at all levels based on Highways England’s investment programme. UK head of highways and bridges Steven Smith reveals that the company plans to take on 150 new members of staff this year.

“We’re looking for highways design engineers, but we also have a big focus on bridge design engineers at all levels,” he says.

“ When I say ‘all levels’ this means anything from experienced engineers with six to seven years’ experience through to project managers with 10 years’ experience and entry level candidates,” he says.

Smith agrees that employers will have to work hard to persuade candidates to join them over their competitors. He thinks the most appealing proposition a company can make to a prospective candidate is the promise of personal development. He thinks Highways England’s renewed focus on smart motorways will help WSP to deliver on this promise.

“Smart motorways are a combination of civil engineering and ITS,” he says. “So when a young engineer comes to work for you, he or she is going to get exposure to both sides of that equation.”

Everest agrees that staff development is a happy consequence of increased highway funding. “The fact we’re in a growth environment is good for staff development. It’s good for existing staff, let alone the new people we’re bringing in, because it gives people the opportunity to step up into new roles .”

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