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Growth business

Among a number of other indicators, a strong sign of the first stages of economic recovery is growth of recruitment of civil and structural engineers. Analysis of entries to this year’s Consultants File, published alongside NCE this week is good. In contrast to the downward trend of the past two years, numbers of engineers recruited by UK firms are back on the up.

To celebrate this fact, NCE is this week naming 2012’s Top 20 Recruiters on the basis of their recruitment over the past year (see page 54). Between them they report an additional 4,542 civil and structural engineers on their books as of 1 January 2013, an increase of 9% on last year’s figures.

These are global numbers of course. It is not necessarily an upsurge of UK projects that has put recruitment back on an upward path. Several of the top 20 hiring firms contacted by NCE report workloads in the UK as being still flat at best. Growth areas for WSP, for instance, are overseas, mostly in the Middle East. The company has reported a 3% increase in civil and structural engineers, the same growth as its overall staff numbers for expansion in India, the United States and the Middle East.


Growth engine: Major projects like Crossrail are spreading work across the consultancy sector

The picture is not the same for all, however. The top recruiter of the past 12 months is Aecom, reporting a civil and structural staff rise of 638 on last year. A fair amount of this is down to a couple of key acquisitions, notably Aecom’s purchase of a 150-strong Lend Lease team and South African consultant BKS. But according to managing director of Aecom’s transportation business Richard Robinson, around 200 civil and structural engineering graduates have been recruited by Aecom across Europe over the past year, half of them in the UK.

“One of our biggest decisions of the past couple of years has been to move early to ramp up graduate recruitment in anticipation of growing workloads, which has helped us secure some very good people,” Robinson says. “This has been a key business driver for Aecom in Europe. It seems an obvious decision now but it wasn’t at the time. We needed more people but we also wanted to get ahead of the curve on graduate recruitment. It makes everyone feel better about the business and translates into work wins.”

“One of our biggest decisions of the past couple of years has been to move early to ramp up graduate recruitment”

Richard Robinson, Aecom

About 20 school leavers have also joined Aecom’s apprentice training programme over the past year. According to Robinson the really big growth area of work for the company is the Middle East, in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, for instance, where just one “road rehabilitation” scheme will involve design of many kilometres of new dual carriageway and demand resources “of a different magnitude”, Robinson says.

Aecom has picked up significant wins in the UK lately, however, such as one of Transport for London’s eight-year highways alliance contracts in partnership with FM Conway. The green light given to the A1 Leeming to Barton upgrade in the government’s autumn statement came as good news for the Aecom team working on that scheme with Carillion/Morgan Sindall for the Highways Agency.

“We are also working hard to grow our rail business and have the Western Route of HS2 keeping a good number of people busy,” Robinson says.

Aecom’s water and buildings businesses are doing well with recruitment, Robinson adds, but transportation is the company’s biggest growth area. Likewise it is the transport sector, particularly rail, that is the reason for growth often cited by NCE’s top 20 employers.

Crossrail has clearly boosted UK civil engineering in general. Morgan Sindall Professional Services, for example, lists its involvement in two Crossrail station contracts as a contributory reason for its growth in numbers.

Plus there are signs of the trickle-down effect of such major schemes. Byrne Looby Partners is a relatively small consultant that has entered the Top 20 Recruiters list partly on the back of its purchase of the Irish water work book of WYG, but Byrne Looby can list involvement in Crossrail’s Stepney Green shaft for Carillion/Spie and Dragados/ Sisk, the Connaught Tunnel for Vinci Construction and temporary works at Whitechapel and Finsbury Circus for Balfour Beatty Major Projects.

High Speed 2 is now looking more certain to be the UK’s next mega project. According to the project promoter HS2 Ltd, Phase One has already generated new design and environmental work to the tune of 1,200 full time jobs. A lot more can be expected to trickle down as construction starts on HS2 and when design starts on Phase Two.

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