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Costain targets new type of engineer for the digital age

Andrew wyllie cropped

Costain chief executive Andrew Wyllie has outlined the new type of civil engineer that the firm is seeking as it transforms itself for the digital age.

Wyllie said recruits must demonstrate a wider skill set as the firm set about turning itself into a smart infrastructure specialist to meet customer demand.

Costain this week announced a 24% hike in pretax profits to £19.5M for the six months to 30 June 2018. This came despite first half revenue falling 11% over the same period to £758.7M.

Wyllie said the firm had hired 1,000 people in the last year and that 1,300 of its employees – a third of its headcount – were now in consultancy or technology roles.

The right kind of civil engineer still has a key place in the business, he added.

“We are developing a strong team at Costain. We have to provide a range of services to our customers – advisory, consulting, project delivery, operations and maintenance. Customers are looking for an integrated offering.

“We are taking on lots and lots of civil engineers but they are involved in a much broader range of activities. We are looking for a civil engineer with a broader range of skills.”

Wyllie added that the importance of a gender-balanced workforce had never been clearer.

“This year, for the first time in our history, more than half of our graduate intake was female. Why is that important? Network Rail for the first time has put equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) performance as a hard criteria for assessment so you need to demonstrate the EDI performance of the business as well as your technical skill if you want to win work.

“We are targeting the best team in the industry with the range of skills needed to meet customer requirements but we are conscious that we must have a diverse, integrated team of people.”

Wyllie also praised the level of skill and ambition among civils graduates.

“We’ve had 20 applications for every graduate position. Very high quality people are readily available. It is thrilling to see the drive and enthusiasm among our graduate intake.”

The margin in the firm’s infrastructure division was “a notch below” Costain’s target of 4% to 5%, Wyllie added.

Costain this week revealed it had been awarded a deal by Highways England to deliver roadside technology for a trial of connected vehicles on the A2/M2 corridor between London and Dover. Wyllie said the firm would continue to target such work.

“Whether it’s Network Rail or Highways England or in the water sector, there are significant multi-million pound spend profiles but all those major customers are saying the way in which their money is being spent is fundamentally different from the previous period with technology at the heart of everything they are doing,” he said. “The use of technology is key to winning that work.”

He added that the company was focusing on work in regulated sectors as negotiations to leave the European Union continue.

“Costain deliberately targets infrastructure, water supply and energy and one of the reasons for that is the spend in those sectors is driven by regulators. Regardless of Brexit outcome we are not expecting any difference to the programmes. We target customers that have to spend money.”

Wyllie also said that he expects the supply of huge construction projects to dry up in these areas. “We are expecting a range of smaller capital projects and not the big ticket one-offs such as London Bridge Station.”

Costain last summer stepped back from a role as preferred bidder for the tunnelling and marine works package at Hinkley Point C, blaming changes in the market and delays to the project for its decision.

However Wyllie said this week that he expected a wide stream of energy supply projects to emerge.

“We fully expect there to be a much broader range of [energy] generation going forward and we are aligning ourselves to do that. We’ve just been awarded a contract for a gas storage facility in Northern Ireland to deal with the energy capacity issue.” 

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