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Bucking the trend

Geotechnical engineers are in demand as workload picks up in the UK and abroad, reports Declan Lynch.


Bright future: Energy sector work like this wind turbine project is boosting career opportunities offered by consultants

An increase in geotechnicalwork in the UK and abroad is leading many UK-based consultants to start recruitment drives.

For Tony Gee & Partners, workloads have been driven up by increases in rail and power sector work, plus an upturn in the Middle East and Australia.

And, despite the downturn in civils workload, the firm’s geotechnical group director Richard Newman has struggled to find suitable staff.

“It is hard to explain,” says Newman. “Recruiting has been difficult and it’s a struggle to find candidates with the right experience even though the overall market is depressed.”

“It’s a struggle to find the right candidates with the right experience even though the market is depressed”

Richard Newman, Tony Gee & Partners

Newman says Tony Gee is looking for six geotechnical engineers across all grades and has enough immediate work for four.

“We’re having to turn work away,” he says. “We’re looking for good generalist engineers who can turn their hand to a variety of work.”

Newman says workloads have been “erratic” since the recession, which means it has been difficult to plan.

“It’s been a difficult market to second guess,” he adds.

But the firm’s workload has gone up recently on the back of major UK projects like the Blackfriars station upgrade in London.

The firm has a team of about 32 geotechnical engineers and is now targeting work in nuclear power and wind farms as well as projects in the Middle East and Australia.

“For good engineers, opportunities do exist to have challenging and rewarding career,” says Newman, adding that his firm offers the possibility to travel as it targets more and more work overseas.

It is a similar story for New Zealand-owned Opus International Consultants (UK), which has a team of 29 UK-based geotechnical engineers, engineering geologists and environmental scientists. It works with key clients such as the Environment Agency, Network Rail and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), and, as with Tony Gee, is finding opportunities aplenty at home and abroad.

“There are a number of factors driving our recruitment need,” explains Opus service excellence leader UK Robert Hutchison. “These range from international work to a more local UK level.”

At an international level the UK business is helping to provide staff to New Zealand for the post earthquake rebuild in Christchurch. It is also strengthening its water sector links with Canada and rail sector links with Australia, which is providing a need for well qualified geotechnical engineers.

In the UK, private sector work is beginning to increase again, and public sector workload has also increased by a third over the last year following a significant win with Hertfordshire County Council. Existing frameworks with Hampshire County Council, Network Rail, RNLI and the Environment Agency also provide significant opportunities for Opus engineers.

Right now Opus needs two geotechnical design engineers with between 10 and 15 years’ experience. It also welcomes applications from geotechnical design engineers at all levels.

The firm is looking for degree qualified engineers with knowledge and experience of shallow and deep foundation design, gravity and embedded retaining wall design, reinforced earth design and slopes.

Experience and detailed knowledge of finite element design is also a must.

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