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Careers: Turning a corner

With a tsunami of work promised after the government pledged £15bn of road building, secondment firm Waterman Aspen says the recruitment market is about to get even more competitive. Ben Cronin reports


Speeding up: Accelerated roads spending is boosting prospects for engineer placement firms

If recruitment levels are the bellwether for the state of the economy, then Waterman Aspen’s figures suggest engineering has turned a corner. The company, which has been seconding employees into a variety of engineering positions for 26 years, says the size of its workforce has now exceeded the level it was at in the days before the financial crisis. “We are now almost 400 strong and have experienced unprecedented growth over the past two years with demand for our services at record levels throughout the UK” says managing director Chris Chaplin.

Chaplin says he wants the company to be the temporary staffing provider of choice for the highways and transportation sector, but he is keen to stress that the firm is not a recruitment agency. “First of all, the majority of the engineers and technicians we place on secondment with other consultancy firms or local authorities are salaried members of our workforce,” he says. “And, unlike most recruitment firms, almost all of our managers are engineers themselves.” This includes Chaplin who started his career at Kent County Council in what used to be the South Eastern Road Construction Unit.

“We’re more akin to a consultant than an agency,” he says. “We know our clients’ businesses and we help either by putting individuals or teams of people into their offices, or taking packages of work away and doing them in a Waterman office.”

Chaplin believes that public sector spending cuts and the way infrastructure projects are now funded is partly responsible for the company’s recent growth.

“The public sector has had to reduce their permanent staff establishments and we provide them with the ability to undertake their projects in-house - otherwise they’d have just lost control of them completely” he explains.
Waterman Aspen are part of the multi-disciplinary Waterman Group but their staff work in integrated teams under the supervision of client managers with a variety of private and public sector clients. The firm has also partnered with consultants including URS and Atkins to bid successfully for frameworks including the Midlands Highway Alliance, West Midlands Highways Alliance and the Hampshire County Council Strategic Partner Contract.

With the government having recently announced £15 billion worth of spending on roads there will be plenty more work in the pipeline but Chaplin isn’t alone in thinking that the industry will struggle to find the human resources for the work: “It’s quite scary to think they’ve announced what’s been described as a ‘tsunami of work’ that is going to be released in March. That is additional work in a market where there is already a limit on the resources available,” he says.

This of course is good news for employees. Chaplin accepts that Waterman Aspen has to offer a competitive benefits package to attract talent that is thin on the ground.

“Good professionals with relevant experience will realise that they’re the ones holding all the cards at the moment,” he says. “Our packages have to be the best we can offer because there’s so much demand.”

Salaried staff at the firm can therefore expect to be offered a company car, a flexible benefits package and on-going training, but Chaplin thinks that the variety of work offered by Waterman Aspen is the greatest perk - and this also informs the type of recruit he looks for.

“Although much of our business is about reacting to client needs, we’re not just recruiting staff to fill a specific role because that post might finish in a few months - we’re looking for someone who enjoys the challenge of something new”.

We call it “variety with security”: we offer stable and time planned secondments fulfilling client project needs, however in order to develop and grow when the time is right, we evolve our staff to new secondments allowing a broadening of skills base and personal development.”

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