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Dramatic fall in graduate vacancies this summer

Civil engineering employers have cut graduate vacancies by more than 40% this year, according to figures published this week by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR).

The AGR also found that there are now 34 applications for every graduate job in civil engineering and construction. Its industry wide survey covered clients, contractors and consultants and included the biggest names in civil engineering.

The shock figures reveal that civils graduates will encounter a collapsed jobs market when they leave university this summer.

The 40.6% fall in civils vacancies is exceeded only by the decline in IT sector graduate vacancies. Overall, graduate vacancies are down 20.6% on 2008 levels.

Only the energy, water and utilities sectors reported increased vacancies. They show a 7.1% increase in graduate jobs.

Graduate vacancies

A collapsed jobs market

The AGR’s figures are based on a survey of 226 blue chip employers, which between them took on 12,650 graduates in 2009.

The civils firms surveyed employ more than 50,000 engineers. They include industry heavyweights Amey, Arup, Atkins, Balfour Beatty, BAM Nuttall, Bechtel, Costain, Gifford, Jacobs, Laing O’Rourke, Mott MacDonald, Mouchel, Network Rail, Skanska, Transport for London and Tube Lines.

“Public sector employers should see investing in skills as a way of investing in infrastructure and also the future. I will be stressing this to them at every opportunity.”

Nelson Ogunshakin, Association for Consultancy & Engineering

Association for Consultancy & Engineering chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin urged his members to continue recruiting, but stressed that responsibility lay with public sector clients. He urged the public sector to bring more work to the market and said that public sector employers should also recruit graduates themselves as an investment in the industry’s skillbase.

“The majority of our clients are still in the public sector. They should see investing in skills as a way of investing in infrastructure and also the future.

“I will be stressing this to them at every opportunity.”

Bosses of the UK’s top consultants had previously warned NCE that the number of graduate places would be significantly down this year (NCE 11 June). But the severity of the dip is still a shock.

Unpaid internships

AGR chief executive Carl Gilleard urged graduates who are unable to find work to consider seeking unpaid internships in the hope that they lead to full-time paid work.

“One small consolation is that graduate internships have been relatively unaffected by the downturn and most employers are offering at least 10 placements,” said Gilleard.

Ogunshakin echoed this view. “If firms cannot afford to pay graduates, then they could set up shadowing schemes, and then convert the unpaid roles into paid positions when work comes on stream.”

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) also urged companies to start taking on interns.

“Hopefully contractors will take a creative approach to recruitment and retention, possibly offering alternative routes of entry to talented graduates.”

Rosemary Beales, CECA

“The challenge for employers at times like these is to balance the short term lack of opportunities with the need to ensure the industry has a flow of new entrants to meet longer term needs, particularly when demand increases as the economy recovers,” said CECA national director Rosemary Beales.

“Hopefully contractors will take a creative approach to recruitment and retention, possibly offering alternative routes of entry to talented graduates, such as internships or half paid gap years where graduates undertake voluntary or charity work.

“This will allow the employer to develop a pool of talented people to call on, giving them the ability to react quickly when workload increases.”

Tough competition

Gilleard urged students to study hard, with more than two thirds of employers overall now setting a 2.1 degree as a minimum standard.

Tough competition for graduate jobs means that starting salaries have remained unchanged for the first year in more than a decade.

The median starting salary for a civil engineering graduate remains unchanged at £24,000. The average graduate starting salary has frozen for the first time in the history of the AGR’s survey at £25,000.

Employers remain cautious about predicting vacancy numbers for 2010 with 53.4% expecting little change. Another 22% said they were cautiously optimistic and 11% said there may be worse of the downturn still to come. Only 3.4% expect another severe cut in vacancies.

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