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Fit for a purpose

Recent changes that have affected the way civil engineers work also mean new post graduate skills are having to be learnt. For instance, training in team building and communication is becoming ever more important in a client-focussed world of PFI, partnering and evolving business relations.

As new ways of working have developed, the career opportunities available to civil engineers have broadened in nature. Facilities management and rail, water and environmental services are providing new openings and driving the need to learn about new things.

The Institute of Employment Studies' Annual Graduate Review 1998-99 claims that recruiters in the engineering sector are complaining that they cannot get the graduates they want (NCE 21 January 1999). According to Nick Jagger, co-author of the review, civil engineering companies are expressing concern about the low number of graduates with sufficient management and communication skills.

'The technical skills provided by degree courses are not enough in the present climate,' says Jagger. 'The whole way of working has changed. Private finance-driven schemes, design and build contracts and project management all require civil engineers to work closely with the client and operate effectively in teams.'

Balfour Beatty's group training and development manager Jeff Keer agrees with Jagger's view on the present skills demand, but he has no complaints about the quality of graduates available.

'I have seen some excellent graduates during the latest recruitment rounds and I don't think newly qualified civil engineers lack management and team building skills. They generally have good all round abilities that give them the potential to develop a career along any one of several different routes.

'Balfour Beatty has always looked to recruit team players and those with the ability to be managers, because that is the nature of our business. The difference now is that we have more facets to our work, such as rail and facilities management, so we are looking for individuals better able to diversify.'

Keer says young engineers that join Balfour Beatty embark on the company's core development programme, which includes mandatory communication, commercial awareness, productivity and health & safety courses. Past graduate level, training is tailored to suit the business awareness and needs of the individual.

'There has been a definite shift towards value management, team building and client-focussed courses within Balfour Beatty,' says Keer.

'Our business is changing. New relationships are being developed between all parts of the construction supply chain. Project team building training for clients, suppliers and subcontractors has increased while claims courses, which were suited to the old adversarial ways of working, have virtually disappeared.'

It is down to each of Balfour Beatty's operating companies to develop its own training strategy, but client-focussed courses are provided for all staff, says Keer.

'These courses have a different name in each sector, such as Customer Care in our facilities management company. Each business area tailors the training to its specific requirements, but all the courses are essentially about recognising the client's needs.'

Continued page 28

Training in Action is providing management and team development courses, mostly for single companies, but also for individuals who can attend an open programme. TiA director Chris Cotton describes the training as being 'aimed at managers who wish to explore and improve their understanding of people in teams through greater awareness of self'.

Cotton says the courses involve everyone from graduates up to board level within organisations, which have included Price Waterhouse Coopers, Cable & Wireless and Tarmac.

'The courses are experience based and involve outdoor exercises, review sessions and psychometric tests, which are tailored to each client's specific needs.'

Cotton says that after working with Tarmac he has found civil engineers are very receptive to team building courses.

'The construction industry relies on teamworking more than any other because of the wide diversity of professionals needed to deliver the end product. The development of people skills by construction companies is leading the way in some areas. Its approach to partnering is providing an example for other industries.' Continued page 30.

Michael Alcock is training administration manager at Tarmac's Group Development Centre. He says team building is just one of a number of training areas currently in high demand.

'Environmental courses are particularly important within Tarmac at present. A programme of training is in progress for all levels within the business, which reflects the Group's commitment to environmental concerns and the targets it has set itself (see box).'

Alcock says communication skills, IT, environment, commercial awareness and health & safety courses have all been identified as key to Tarmac's present training needs.

Many companies agree that engineers need to be good all-rounders to get on in today's construction industry. Posford Duvivier technical director Tony Masters is the supervising civil engineer for his company's graduate training scheme.

'We want people who are socially as well as technically adept. The ideal graduates are somewhere between introvert and extrovert and able to demonstrate that they have the potential to be good teamworkers and managers,' says Masters.

'We provide training in time management, team building, delegation and communication skills for our young engineers in-house so the course content can be focussed specifically to our needs.'

Halcrow's director for personnel Peter Jackson says his company is also looking for graduates with particular traits that indicate their potential.

'We have introduced assessment days to enable us to look for interpersonal skills including written communication and presentation skills. As far as management ability is concerned, we don't expect graduates to have a good grasp of business.

'But there are a lot of avenues such as management consultancy opening to individuals with written and oral communication skills as well as technical ability.'

Jackson says Halcrow employees who show these qualities during their training are given financial support to attend MBA or MSc business courses tailored to the route they wish to choose within the company.

Thomas Telford Training (TTT) provides a series of courses to enable civil engineers to prepare for the Chartered Professional Review, including a one day course entitled Essential People Skills.

TTT senior lecturer Michael Owen says the course aims to teach management skills such as delegation, motivating people and effective oral and written communication.

'Some engineers concentrate too much on technical ability and lose sight of the importance of interpersonal skills. Good communication is vital for putting across the right message and avoiding misinterpretation. Grasping written skills is important, not least because there can be legal implications with the written word. Legislation such as the Construction Design & Management Regulations has placed additional responsibility on individual engineers to ensure documentation is correct,' says Owen.

'Communication errors are rarely spotted or corrected as frequently as technical mistakes. This course enables individuals to identify ways of improving how they work with other team members.'

This feature was prepared for NCE by Barrett, Byrd Associates.

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