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Demanding times

Spotlight - An influx of skills from overseas is helping geotechnical consultants keep pace with booming demand.

Britain's geotechnical sector is struggling to meet the increasing demand for its services because of an industry-wide skills shortage.

But the establishment of overseas offices and the increase in skills drawn from abroad are helping to ease the pressure.

Atkins divisional director David French argues that in the past, school leavers could be trained to fill the skills shortages.

But current demand is such that domestic universities cannot supply enough graduate engineers.

In addition, rising foreign workload and demands from clients for staff to man projects at short notice means that consultants and contractors are desperately trying to recruit, while making their teams as exible as possible.

'We are picking up projects from all over the world. It is putting a high demand on recruitment and retention. We have had to up our staff numbers by 10% and employ a full-time recruiter to help us keep up, ' says French.

Attracting new staff is not easy either, given the career choices available to today's graduates. 'With newcomers to the industry, we are competing with lifestyle choices: it's the hearts and minds issue.

'When I started at 21, people stayed in one place until retirement. Now they want to travel, take gap years and so on.

It all has to become part of the balance, ' says French. 'The real upside is their exibility. Foreign trips are most popular with them.' In its own battle to maintain and increase staff numbers, Atkins' geotechnical arm has taken on 45 British, 24 Europeans and 29 recruits from other parts of the world since April 2005.

An innovative alternative to using time-consuming pesticides or expensive dig and dump practices to control invasive plants has been launched.

Manufacturer REC claims that its RootX twin geotextile web, interwoven with copper foil sheet, can create an environmentally friendly barrier to destructive plants like Japanese Knotweed (left).

The plant tends to spread by having pieces of its root system transported by people or by water. It has plagued the country since 1825 when it was introduced as an ornamental plant. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it illegal to plant or allow Knotweed to grow.

RootX works by acting as a permanent vertical barrier around the perimeter of a site, preventing weeds from spreading onto it and keeping the ground inside free of herbicides and free of illegal infestation.

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