Atkins is the largest consultant in the UK construction sector by some margin.
With a staff of nearly 17,000 and annual turnover of more than £1bn, the company is well over twice the size of its nearest rival, and most of its individual businesses are the biggest consultants in their sectors.
The stock market-listed company has grown steadily, and that is set to continue, with projections that staff numbers will exceed 20,000 in the next few years. But the firm's senior management insists that growth is a by-product of success, not an aim in itself.
'Like all quoted companies we have a growth imperative, ' says the company's HR director Alun Griffiths. 'But pursuing growth for growth's sake is not what we're about. Our view is that size is immaterial. The only reason size ultimately matters is that it tends to mean we have a role in major projects, so we can give people access to those opportunities.' Atkins is organised as a series of market-facing businesses. The three that employ civil and structural engineers are Highways & Transportation, Rail, and Design & Engineering Solutions. All have staff in offices throughout the UK, as well as in overseas locations such as China, the Middle East and India.
Each business offers its own career progression opportunities, but staff are also encouraged to move between divisions. 'We are trying very hard to create a culture of mobility, both between businesses and between regions, ' says Griffiths. 'Not everybody wants to do this, but for those that do want to move about we can provide that.' He escribes Atkins' raison d'être as 'engineering excellence', saying: 'When we talk to clients we are trying to understand the challenges they face and come up with innovative and effective solutions to those challenges.' Last year Atkins grew by more than 10%, adding 1,700 people to its payroll. 'Our capacity to recruit and retain staff is good, but we think good management is about looking ahead and preparing ourselves for this changing world, ' says Griffi ths.
To this end, much of the firm's recent recruitment has been outside the UK, including staffing up two 'global design centres' in Sharjah and Bangalore. 'This is not about outsourcing or a short-term response to cost pressures, ' emphasises Griffiths. 'It is a way to access talent pools of very skilled engineers.
They may be based overseas, but they are part of our UK divisions.' He says Atkins staff are learning to think in terms of 'long corridors'. 'In the future an individual will have a team, but that team may be in a different location and time zone. We will all have to learn what it means to have people from our team from different cultures. It may affect the way we allocate work, the way people speak up or express dissent or concern. I think it's a healthy change.'