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Individuals welcome

Careers profile - Atkins says its size and diversity enables individuals to develop a career based on their strengths. Margo Cole reports.

There is one word that keeps coming up in conversation with people who work at Atkins: opportunity. Perhaps this is not surprising. Atkins is the largest engineering consultancy in the UK, and the eighth largest design firm in the world. If you join a company of that size, you might hope there would be plenty of opportunities.

With size - and reputation - come the large, prestigious projects. Atkins' architects and engineers are responsible for a huge range of high profile schemes, like the sail-shaped Burj al Arab Hotel in Dubai; the Daegu stadium in South Korea, built for the 2002 World Cup; and, in the UK, the West Coast Main Line upgrade.

'Atkins has always tended to have a serious role in the leading projects of the day, ' says group HR director Alun Griffiths. 'It is one of our strengths and one of the major reasons why people join us.'

The company has recognised, however, that in a large organisation it is sometimes difficult to get noticed and navigate the opportunities that are available, or even to know what they are.

'So we have developed succession plans for each of the businesses which cover a large proportion of the management and take into account the potential of our staff, ' says Griffiths. 'This allows us to facilitate moves around the business.

'This month we have implemented new technology to allow Atkins staff and new recruits to see and apply for positions on the group's website.

We want people to feel they can genuinely develop their careers internally when they are ready rather than having to go elsewhere.'

With 14,000 staff and an annual turnover of £1.2bn, Atkins has grown rapidly since Sir William Atkins launched the business in 1938. Despite its dramatic expansion, the company has not lost any of the entrepreneurial spirit of its founder. Atkins believes it is at the leading edge of technology. And its size and diversity enable the company to build on the skills of its employees - 'fitting people to roles' as Griffiths puts it.

'Sir William was always keen to try new things and be innovative, ' explains group managing director for Atkins' design engineering business Norman Schunter.

'Innovation and entrepreneurship are just as important to the culture of the company today.

The minute you stop innovating and trying new things you will be dead in the water.'

The sheer size of the company could appear daunting, but it is separated into business units for different sectors, each the size of a smaller company. Even so nearly all of these is among the top five consultants in their field.

'From the outside world I suppose it could look like a single edifice, but that's miles from the truth, ' says Griffiths. 'It's important that we have some common areas - like values and ways of doing business - but what we've got here are groups of people who are very different in the techniques and work that they do, and also in the kind of people they are.

The company has introduced a structured system of review and appraisal that identifies individuals' skills, then gives them the chance to build on their strengths and get help with areas they are not so good at.

Techniques like psychometric testing and '360infinity feedback' are increasingly used to get a profile of staff at different stages in their career.

'We need to welcome diversity, so we try not to recruit people who are uniform in their styles, and then look to develop their specific skills, ' says Griffiths.

'When people join us we help them access the many opportunities within the business.'

Training and career development are targeted to get the best out of each person.

The aim, according to Griffiths, is not to develop a typical Atkins employee - quite the opposite.

It is to understand how best to employ each person to give them a rewarding career, whatever their strengths are. And the size of the company should ensure that the opportunities are there for everyone.

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