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Graduates and students struggle to find work

Graduate and student civil engineers are facing a grim battle for employment this summer as companies cut back on recruitment for full time work and work experience placements.

Almost a third of civil engineers graduating this summer have yet to secure a job according to research carried out by NCE.

Of those that have, four out of 10 are lowering their salary expectations by up to £3,000.

The news is worse for students seeking summer placements. Almost half of those surveyed by NCE admitted that they would consider working for free this summer.

“There’s been a significant reduction in the number of employers advertising,” said Imperial College Civil Engineering department advisor Neil Macintyre.

“Some are not taking anyone at all. Since January there has been very little activity. Graduates probably have less choice than before, but the people suffering more are the MSc graduates. They’re finding it more difficult.”

An especially difficult year

Macintyre said the news was no better for students. “Work placements are always an issue with so many students.

“This year, it’s especially difficult. We would expect between 60% and 70% of students to get placements, but that’s likely to be significantly down this year.”

“There’s been a significant reduction in the number of employers advertising.”

Neil Macintyre, Imperial College

Britain’s biggest employers of civil engineers have all told NCE that they are recruiting around half as many graduates as usual this year.

Atkins said it was targeting 136 graduate placements this year, down on its long-term average of between 150 and 250.

Aecom expects to recruit just over 100, down from an average of 230 and Arup will take on 120 graduates in the UK, about half that of its last peak recruitment year in 2007.

“The reduction is not about saving money,” said Arup chairman Philip Dilley.

“If you take on graduates you have got to give them interesting work to do.”

Be prepared and persistent

ICE membership director David Lloyd-Roach said graduates needed to be prepared.

“It is tricky to predict to what extent civil engineering graduates will be impacted by the economic downturn. However with companies tightening belts across the board it is fair to assume this year’s graduates will be entering a more competitive marketplace than usual.

“Our advice to prospective graduates is to be prepared, persistent, but also realistic. When interviewing make sure you have done your research and are ready to demonstrate your understanding of the fundamental engineering principles.

“This year’s graduates will be entering a more competitive marketplace than usual.”

David Lloyd-Roach, ICE

“With fewer roles around you may have to drop your expectations. Taking an internship, for example, could lead to other opportunities − once you’re in the door you have a much better chance at any new roles that come up.”

The decline in graduate jobs in civil engineering is matched across all disciplines. The Association of Graduate Recruiters’ (AGR) in-depth vacancies survey published in February predicted a 5.4% decrease in the number of graduate jobs for 2009 and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development believes almost half of all employers have no plans to recruit graduates this year.

The government has even suggested graduates move abroad or do volunteer work to ride out the recession in a booklet issued to university leavers.

But AGR chief executive Carl Gilleard said graduates should not despair.

“It is really important that graduates coming into the market this year do not despair and assume that there are no jobs whatsoever out there. Though there is certainly nervousness amongst recruiters about the impact of the recession on their business, not all have shut up shop by any means and a very significant number are still looking for bright graduates to take on.”

Tackling the problem

The AGR has asked employers to advise graduates on how to tackle the jobs market. In response, two thirds of employers advised graduates unable to secure a full time job quickly that securing temporary paid employment was a desirable alternative and 54.4% recommended gaining graduate-level experience in another sector.

Employers had mixed feelings about “years out” − just 39.6% thought this was a sensible move.

The least favourable option for employers was further study. Only 30% thought this would give graduates an edge in the job hunt.

Readers' comments (1)

  • There is always hope, never give up, I graduated in 1991 when we were in our last jobs crisis. It took time but I found the job I wanted. You have to be prepared to work in different locations and accept less pay, but make the most of any opportunity you get. Almost all jobs can lead to more exciting times

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