The cyclical nature of property development has made it difficult to create a stable and sustainable pipeline of graduate opportunities and skills investment. This crucial, but often overlooked sector, demands a particular mix of technical skills, pragmatism and commerciality, much of which can only really be trained “on the job“.
The past year has demonstrated just how quickly the scarcity of skilled and ambitious young consulting engineers has acted as a brake on growth, which for a rapidly growing small and medium business is hugely frustrating. This is compounded by highly experienced people that have left the industry during the recession for opportunities abroad, in education or for premature retirement.
The prolonged recession severely constrained opportunities for graduates within the property development sector. Now that the development industry has returned to strength I expect we will be feeling the effects of under-investment in graduates very keenly for years to come. Those few graduates that did manage to find a place in the sector during the recession are only just beginning to realise the scale of ambition to which they can aspire as they emerge from the market gloom that has surrounded them for the formative years of their career.
There is a real and urgent need for companies to invest in recruitment and further training of young consultants, particularly to fast track development of their commercial understanding of the world around them. This is the essential knowledge that develops an engineer into a consultant in the property development sector and is often the gateway through which individuals achieve their ambitions. Some leaders and managers are, perhaps understandably, protective of opportunities for commercial exposure, reluctant to invest such experience in graduates and young engineers due to fears about retention, but we have an industry-wide resource problem. This will only be addressed by an industry wide investment that we must undertake with confidence; after all, what goes around, comes around.
To young engineers, headline grabbing major infrastructure projects may have the civil engineering “bling”. However, there are equally rewarding and enjoyable careers to be had in consultancy in the property development sector, where making a valuable contribution to our society and economy and leaving a visible mark on our built environment provides a great sense of achievement.
- David Hollingsworth is group director - environment at BWB Consulting