Too many university courses, it seems, are not geared towards providing tomorrow's workforce with the practical skills needed for the world of engineering.
Many recent graduates are finding it difficult to get on to the career ladder, despite the incredibly buoyant state of the market, and there is a significant gap between their skills and abilities and those required by employers.
'We have noticed a definite dilution in core geological and engineering principles among graduates, with degree courses losing focus on these essential skills, ' says David French, divisional director of consultant Atkins.
'We require our new recruits to be flexible and motivated, with good analytical and report writing skills. The problem is, many universities are failing to nurture these qualities.'
After noting 'an industry-wide frustration at the skills sets of new graduates' Nic Yates, section manager of global recruitment consultancy Beresford Blake Thomas (BBT), took the initiative to bridge the gap between university and work.
Yates set about organising a pilot scheme with Portsmouth University last May, in which recruitment consultants from BBT's geoenvironmental division held seminars and workshops for more than 30 final year engineering geology students.
Sessions were designed to provide practical advice to the soon-to-be-graduates on how to get their first job in the engineering industry.
They included workshops on interview techniques, and aimed to offer an insight into the commercial world.
The pilot scheme was a success, and in the coming academic year BBT will take its campaign to Portsmouth, Belfast, Birmingham and Brunel universities, and to Imperial College in London.
'We are seeing a high demand for environmental and geotechnical engineers by employers across the UK, ' Yates explains, 'but many graduates fresh out of university don't have the mix of skills that employers require.
'It's our aim to help graduates make the most of their degrees and find work within the industry.
'The engineering industry is experiencing a skills shortage, but unlike other areas, the issue is not about getting people interested in the subject and doing the training, it's getting the students more geared towards the industry itself.'
Yates believes many graduates do not make enough of their degrees: 'A major part of the problem is undergraduates choosing to do their dissertation with a purely academic focus, rather than thinking about what they will actually be able to apply in their career.
'They're doing studies on plate tectonics and volcanoes when employers need people who've studied areas like contaminated land and slope stability.'
Graduates' dissertations should demonstrate they have developed the core skills useful for future employers, Yates argues, be they in the ground engineering, mining, environmental, or oil.
This year BBT will be holding advisory seminars for second year students as well as 'finalists'using its commercial knowledge of the sector to advise on the kind of choices they can make in their course that will make them attractive to employers.
'During the pilot scheme we advised two students to write their dissertations on tunnels - both were offered jobs almost immediately after graduating, proving the point that employers are bound to favour the graduates with relevant dissertations, ' Yates says.
Another the problem, he adds, is undergraduates not developing their interpersonal skills.
Communications skills are hugely important, as is the ability to write a good CV (see GE July 04).
BBT's seminars will be instructing undergraduates on these issues - and presentation: 'It's amazing how many graduates do not own a tie or suit, ' Yates says.
Simon Abbot graduated from Portsmouth University this year with a degree in engineering geology and geotechnics. BBT found him a position with Edge Consulting, where he is now undertaking a graduate development programme.
'At Portsmouth we were well equipped for a career in both the geology and engineering sectors, ' Abbot says.'Many students decide to write dissertations on geological hazards, but there aren't many geological hazards in the UK so it meant travelling abroad to find work, taking skills out of the country.
'We were encouraged to undertake a dissertation that included a good geological basis but also incorporated a large engineering design, which was really practical advice. Seven out of the 11 students on my course have now found employment in the engineering sector.'
lThe next BBT seminar will take place at Belfast University at the end of September. For more information contact Nic Yates on 0121 265 2555.