Skills are set to be an issue for the geotechnical market as workload demands increase
Rising demand for geotechnical services can clearly be seen in the increase in geotechnical staff numbers recorded in the Geotechnical Services File this year. Also, for the first time since the recession hit in 2008, less than 1% of respondents to the GSF survey expect to have to reduce staff numbers in the next 12 months.
The 48.5% of respondents who expect staff numbers to increase over the next year will not have an easy task ahead of them as many businesses are already reporting that finding staff with the necessary skills is difficult.
“Recruitment is the main challenge we face,” says URS director of geoservices and mining John Holden. “The increasing scale and complexity of projects mean the need for good geotechnical specialists, and in particular tunnel designers, is greater than ever. We have opportunities for staff to work on high-profile projects across Europe – we can’t recruit fast enough.”
One respondent, who preferred not to be named, told GE that a number of his staff had been poached by rival firms in recent months to fill positions that were above their skill levels and were being tempted by companies offering higher salaries than he could match. “A large number of the skilled staff we are fighting for have moved out of the industry or moved overseas during the last five years,” he said. “There is not the same pool of people available as there used to be.”
Recently retired geotechnical engineer Frank Shannon said that the industry is now paying the price for constantly and consistently failing to plan for the future. Shannon believes that retention of geotechnical job titles on the reserved occupation lists for immigration is an own goal for the sector and the industry needs to start paying higher salaries in order to attract and retain staff.
According to Shannon, redundancies over the last five years may have helped with short-term cash flow problems, but there was no long-term strategy that considered staff morale, motivation or retention.
“If they now pay the right wages they will get the right staff but there is inertia in the system and so it’s hard luck if employers have to turn work away,” he says. “If they do employ a poor calibre of staff they will face PI claims and learn a hard lesson.”
Pay scales across the industry do vary and for the first time the 2013 GSF included a salary survey. While it is difficult to draw any conclusions from the initial results, the figures gathered will set a good benchmark for future years to check whether future remuneration levels are keeping pace with business growth.