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Drastic measures needed to halt graduate downturn

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%.

Jobs struggle

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.”

Paul Jowitt

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.

Readers' comments (8)

  • I am sure a "working group" and presentation and debate at the NCE will influence the main cause of the reduction: Government reduction of expenditure on infrastructure. Where is our (ICE) lobbying of Government on the effect on the economy of such short term views of the value of our infrastructure?

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  • The reason that the profession does not attract suuficient numbers of students and indeed students of adequate calibre is simply that the civil engineering profession has lost its place. We now have projects being led by "Project Managers" and the engineer has much less influence in the process then he previously had.

    Engineers are essential in the world, unlike many other professions, some of whom have simply carved out positions for themselves. Everything that everyone does on a daily basis, requires an engineer, from switching on the light in the morning, to flushing the toilet before going to bed at night. These other professionals would not be able to get to there offices if engineers did not exist.

    Our forefathers recognised this and, accordingly, took their rightful place in society.

    Experienced civil engineers with their breadth of education and interface with other professions and business are more qualified than most to take charge and to deliver projects more successfully . It is about more than design, it is about understanding how the world works.

    Until the profession relearns this fact and does something about it, the numbers and quality of applicants will not improve.

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    Less than three months ago, the Director-General of this Institution, lobbied the new Government to allow more work permits for foreign engineers because "there was a shortage of civil engineers in this country and the infrastructure needed could not be built without foreign help"

    He was wrong on both counts; ask the 2010 graduates without jobs and not surprisingly the new Government - quite rightly - has put an end to Gordon Brown's expenditure of money we just do not have, so infrastructure spending once again goes from feast to famine.

    Are we not due a word of explanation or even an apology from Tom Foulkes? You bet we are!
    Will it come? You can bet it will not!

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  • Some thoughtful and insightful comments above which leave me wondering whether, in the longer term, current graduates may look back and feel relieved that they did not have the opportunity to enter the profession.

    They may well be better off pursuing other professions/careers and not risk specialising e.g. in technical disciplines that are sensitive to economic cycles, such as highway design, and find themselves redundant in the way thousands have/are/will be in the current severe recession.

    As someone who attempts to wear both hats, I empathise (and sometimes struggle) with the 'project manager - engineer' debate mentioned above. Civil engineers, as well as being excellent thinkers, designers and innovators, have been competent/superb project managers for centuries.

    Meanwhile, project management as a "branded" profession seems to me to be still very much in its infancy with widely distributed (in the UK) methodologies that do not appear to have gone through anything like comparable rigour or centuries of development/implementation/proof testing/devil's advocacy to those of mature, long established professions.

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  • On the same NCE bulletin

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  • On the same NCE bulletin - ‘ICE is bringing together an expert panel of Institution Members to respond to the Government’s consultation on the level at which to set the first annual limit on economic migration'. It appears that some long term planning by the Government and the ICE (possibly also the EC) would go a long way to avoid this stop start in skills shortages. But that's unlikely as I remember a few years ago there was an influx of engineers from Australia and New Zealand. We don’t seem to have learnt anything from our past.

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  • I whole-heartedly agree with the action which the ICE is taking. There is no doubt that the UK has a shortage of civil engineers and infrastructure will be more expensive and less innovative as a result. The ICE needs to do all it can to convince employers and the government of the need to invest in recruiting and training graduates now - if they do not they will pay a high price later!

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  • IMHO the standing/status of civil engineers is the key issue - in Canada / Australia, civil engineers are regarded in the same light as Doctors!

    There are a world of opportunites out there:

    coming soon!

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