Radical ideas and novel solutions are vital to halt the current downturn in civil engineering graduate recruitment, senior industry representatives heard last week.
A special meeting called by ICE president Paul Jowitt to discuss graduate employment prospects heard that the economic downturn and threat of massive public sector cuts has resulted in graduate recruitment this year falling by up to 50%.
A recent NCE survey of universities with civil engineering courses also showed that this year’s civils graduates were struggling to find work.
Heriot-Watt University undergraduate assistant Denise Dickson said: “I have been shocked by the lack of contact from employers, which indicates that this cohort will find it difficult to find jobs within the industry.”
Other universities also admitted that few 2010 graduates had found a job in the industry. At Cardiff University, only 27 of the 133 civil engineering students graduating this year have secured civil engineering positions so far.
At Kingston University, admissions officers estimated that around a third of their civils graduates had found work in the industry.
Addressing the ICE meeting, Jowitt said: “The current state of the economy is having profound effects on civil engineering - and civil engineers.
“It doesn’t alter the fact that much of our key infrastructure needs renewal. Now is not the time to lose a generation of young engineers.”
“Much of our key infrastructure needs renewal. Now is not the time to lose a generation of young engineers.”
Ideas presented at the meeting included establishing online communities to encourage sharing of information, job sharing, internships and flexibility for gap years, sabbaticals and unpaid leave.
The use of employer consortiums to share the training burden was also discussed as was working with universities to develop more vocational or longer courses.
But when contacted by NCE, recruitment consultant Hays director of engineering Pam Lindsay-Dunn offered a more positive outlook. “The market is showing signs of recovery - there has been an increase in graduate roles within engineering consultancies and specialist engineering companies who deal with niche areas,” she said.
“We are also seeing companies employing graduates on a temporary basis.”
Graduate schemes announced
Network Rail announced last month that it will create 170 new graduate jobs between August and October. However, only 17 of these are for civil or mechanical engineering roles. In an indication of the high levels of graduate job hunters this year, it said that it has received over 800 applications.
Network Rail head of resourcing Adrian Thomas told NCE that there was a problem caused by graduates moving to other sectors. “We are successful at attracting good people, but they are also ambitious. They join with us and then move on to bigger and better things.”
EdF has also announced plans to take on 100 new recruits to help prepare for the onset of new nuclear. Of the 100 graduates, 80 will be trained in the nuclear business.
An EdF spokesman confirmed that half of these will eventually work in its new build division as the firm gears up for the UK’s first nuclear power plants since Sizewell B in 1995. The first of the new generation of nuclear power plants is set to be operational by 2018.
Task force set up
Last week’s ICE special meeting concluded that much more had to be done to ensure the current university graduate output remained engaged and inspired by the civil engineering profession.
A specially convened working group was set up - to be chaired by Bill Hewlett (ICE VP-elect) - and tasked with investigation and, where possible, bringing the ideas to life.
The initial results of this work will be presented and debated at the forthcoming Infrastructure Show at the NEC in October.