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Does size matter?

Debate; Working for a large consultancy can be a passport to working on some of the world's most exciting engineering projects. But does working for a small consultancy give engineers greater freedom in their work? This week we ask: Is working for a large

Yes

Patrick Valvona, project manager, Hyder Consulting

When I graduated in 1988 I began my career with John Burrow & Partners, a medium-size multidisciplinary consultancy based in the UK. Since 1995, I have been working for Hyder Consulting, which has about 3,000 staff in the UK and overseas.

Working for a company such as Hyder Consulting offersmany opportunities for engineers which may not be available in smaller firms. Due to their scale, larger consultancies enable individuals to become directly involved in major engineering projects, with long-term prospects of having a leading role in multi-million pound schemes. Similarly, companies which are active in overseas markets can offer short and long- term international experience.

There are certain other advantages that major consultancies can offer. As an engineer, it is very useful to have internal expertise within the company to draw upon, thus reducing the need to bring in specialists. There are usually greater internal career opportunities within larger organisations and, while there are no guarantees these days, there is potentially greater job security as large companies are better able to deal with the peaks and troughs in the construction industry.

Opportunities also exist for an engineer to become a specialist or to develop their career as a manager. The style of working environment may also suit those who like to work in larger open plan offices, assisted by networked IT systems and support services. Individuals can also broaden their experience of working with others as members of different project teams.

Working for a large consulting company may not be to everybody's taste. However, there are a number of benefits afforded by the size of such organisations, particularly for individuals who wish to gain experience on major projects in the UK.

No

Dave Parker, technical editor, New Civil Engineer.

Large companies can offer better benefits, for example, health insurance, share option schemes and good pensions. To a self-employed person, as I was for many years, these benefits and the security they represent can look very seductive.

But everything has a price. Freedom from insecurity and financial uncertainty does not come cheap. Seek them in a typical large company and you could find yourself exchanging one sort of stress for another.

Frustration is usually the problem and it can be a killer, literally. As one small cog in a machine that rarely functions as well as the bosses claim the employee has little influence, independence or opportunity to use his or her initiative. This lack of control over one's professional life is one of the worst forms of insecurity, and a major source of stress. Low-ranking members of large organisations are much more likely to die of heart disease than the self-employed - or those who work for small firms.

A good small company can offer a very effective blend of financial security and job satisfaction. There may be fewer standard 'benefits', but there will be a greater opportunity to negotiate personal remuneration packages with senior management. And there is always the possibility of growing with the company into a position of real authority and responsibility.

Many go-ahead large companies already recognise that small is beautiful, and make strenuous efforts to retain the small company feel on which their original success was based. Emap, the multi-national publishing group that owns NCE, has a policy of operating as a collection of small companies with less than 200 staff, each based in its own separate building.

So I and my colleagues here at Emap Construct have all the pension and insurance benefits you might expect from a multi-national, yet we drink inthe same pub as the managing director.

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