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Is the price right?

Everyone wants to see civil engineering professionals properly rewarded for the work they do and the responsibility they take on.

But any moves to artificially manipulate the job market or attempt to over-hype the pressure on skills cannot be considered helpful to anyone.

True enough, in every sector of the business we are continuously hearing stories about just how diffi cult it is to get hold of quality staff right now. The scale and pace of the workload now on-going across infrastructure planning, design, construction and maintenance has certainly caught many, if not by surprise, then surely under-prepared.

And realistically, despite current interest rate increases and rising political uncertainty caused by Tony Blair’s resignation, it is unlikely that this situation is going to change substantially overnight.

We will hear more detail in the summer of course, but Gordon Brown’s final Comprehensive Spending Review is not expected to see too much in the way of change to public infrastructure investment during Brown’s longawaited premiership.

The market seems to agree.

As we pointed out in this year’s Consultants File, the overwhelming majority of firms expect the good times to continue with growth forecast for at least the next couple of years.


There really are some pretty exciting times ahead for engineering and construction in terms of the scale and variety of work and in the way that this work is being carried out.

Engineering is feeling confident about its role, the value that it adds and is beginning to enjoy itself.


On the other hand it is also universally accepted that the current dearth of trained and experienced staff makes it vital for companies to pick and choose very carefully the jobs they take on. Whether it is a result of a lost generation of engineers, turned away from the profession by the late 1980s recession, or simply down to the continuing failure by the industry and profession to make itself attractive - financially or emotionally - to young people, is debatable.


It would be naîve and highly short-term to believe that all this activity in the face a shortage of skills should necessarily result in a sudden and dramatic inflation of salaries across the board.


Yes, supply and demand laws do apply but only up to a point.


Fundamentally professional engineers and engineering are not a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. Thus, any firms that find themselves being sucked into this kind of process should, I suggest, take a serious look at the kind of skills and talent they require and the way that they are both finding and developing it.


So by all means, make sure that you are getting rewarded your market rate. But it is equally right to remind employers to walk away from any situations in which they find themselves over a barrel.


Finally, on the subject of jobs and recruitment, it would be remiss not to fl g up this week’s news of Network Rail chief executive John Armitt’s impending move to the Olympic Delivery Authority - a move that was of course first suggested by this column in December last year.


And as stated back then, he is surely the right man for the job and should ensure that London is ready and fit for 2012.


So if anyone else has a key position to fill then please do of course get in touch - but be warned that in line with current market conditions, a fee may have to be charged in future.


Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

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