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Debate Golden hellos

Accountants, merchant banks and stockbrokers often offer graduates money as an incentive to work for them.

This week we ask: In view of the current construction skills shortage, should construction employers consider lump sum, golden hello payments to make sure they attract the best graduates?


If Andersen Consulting and the big five accountants feel welcome payments of up to £10,000 are necessary to maintain the calibre of their staff, we should all pay attention. Numerate construction graduates are as attractive to these organisations as they are to ourselves but arguably our need to recruit them is more critical at a time when we are facing severe skills shortages.

It makes sense to give new young talent money that would otherwise be spent on paying headhunters to fill our vacancies.

The offer of cash to graduates is not simply bribery. Many students are expected to leave college with debts of around £15,000 now they have to take out student loans not only to cover their keep, but pay tuition fees as well. It is a simple fact of life that a 22 year old up to his or her eyes in debt is going to find an employer offering a large cash sum much more attractive than one that is not.

What these payments really mean is that the cost of educating the young is being passed on to employers. If that is the case, we should accept it and use it as an opportunity to create a step change in the construction education process. Why not bypass universities altogether?

There is a general view, I believe, that higher education is not willing or able to give graduates the knowledge and skills that employers want them to have. We should take this opportunity to do it ourselves; recruit keen young people from school and teach them what we need them to know in programmes set up within our own companies if we are big enough, or in virtual universities that everyone has access to.

That way we can invest our cash directly in the future of our employees and our businesses.


As an initiator of a new scholarship scheme to attract high quality students into civil engineering it could be imagined that I would be a supporter of golden hellos. Indeed, I strongly believe the industry needs to offer incentives to both its present and future workforce to demonstrate the value it places on them. However, golden hellos are a poor form of incentive and typify the short term, crisis management strategy that afflicts industries under pressure.

Golden hellos offer no real benefit to the industry and alone, they are unlikely to give long term benefit to the company: consider the demoralising effect on the rest of the office.

Golden hellos are used by other professions to poach our graduates. Here they act as the catalyst to initiate the transfer.

To hold the graduate the companies offer good salaries and career prospects. If our industry could offer such incentives they would be less vulnerable to golden hellos and consequently have little need of them.

The solution is to provide competitive salaries, befitting the quality of our graduates and the long term value they give to the industry and to include performance related incentives.

Improve career and training structures, put the money into staff development and work to maximise job satisfaction and self esteem. Then the advantage of golden hellos will be marginalised and they may only appeal to those keen to earn a quick buck - probably not the employees we would wish to encourage.

Our scholarship represents a partnership between academia; the industry and the ICE to best achieve these long-term ideals.

Yes, we need a financial incentive to turn the heads of students considering other options, but it is the bond developed between employee and employer based on long term vision and suitable reward, including training, that will benefit the profession. Perhaps, 'hello to a golden career'?

The facts

Applications to study civil engineering and other built environment courses have dropped 40% in the last five years.

According to the National Construction Careers Group, the percentage of graduates entering the industry is falling rapidly.

The Construction Industry Council is seeking crisis talks with Departmentof the Environment, Transport and the Regions to find ways to head off the mounting skills shortage.

The Association of Graduate Recruiters says one in five of Britain's top employers is paying golden hellos to lure the best students.

Andersen Consulting decided this summer to offer graduates a signing on bonus of £10,000.

The National Union of Students estimates graduates will leave university owing an average £15,000.

The University of Surrey/ICE scholarship is under development in partnership with the industry. The first scholars will be enrolled in September 2001.

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