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Investment in civils students is currently just an aspiration

If the findings of the latest Association of Graduate Recruiters’ (AGR’s) Summer survey are anything to go by, this year’s civil engineering graduates face a difficult time.

For all the talk from the industry about the need to continue its investment in nurturing the next generation of civil engineering professionals, it is clear that this aspiration remains simply an aspiration.

The AGR headlines are frightening. While six months ago firms predicted a gloomy 8.7% fall in year on year graduate recruitment, today the forecast has leapt to a massive 60.5% drop in places available.

The result is that, for each job available, firms can expect 130 applications compared to an already staggeringly high average of 83 across the board. Competition for jobs is even higher at energy, water and utility firms where 188 applications fight for every post.

As NCE has pointed out consistently throughout the downturn, this failure to plan for the future is a recipe for disaster. Not least given a year on year increase in graduate opportunities across sectors of 2.6%.

Individual sectors such as law are predicting a 14.6% rise in graduate jobs, engineering and industrial a 46% increase and business and consulting is planning for a whopping 149% increase this year.

“Starting salaries for construction graduates are expected to rise 1.1%, but that still keeps the industry’s £23,500 at the bottom of the pack”

OK, there is some good news. Starting salaries for construction graduates are expected to rise 1.1%, but that still keeps the industry’s £23,500 at the bottom of the pack.

Compare that to law which is offering £37,000 or even accountancy which starts graduates on £26,500. With both professions also having jobs available, civil engineering’s future skills crisis looks guaranteed.

There are some completely rational business reasons why construction firms are struggling to invest in the next generation. The scale of the market contraction is still being revealed and if there’s no work, then what is the justification for recruiting?

Yet, as this week’s issue demonstrates, there is still a huge amount going on in and around the world of civil engineering.

The Middle East is still booming. The energy and global infrastructure markets are hotting up with firms like Vinci, CH2M Hill and Rider Levett Bucknall already taking advantage. And innovative engineering design such as seen on the M74 is still vital to deliver value for clients’ cash.

The challenge of delivering the low carbon infrastructure needed to drive global economies, as we heard at last week’s NCE-supported BASE London conference, will require huge investment in civils expertise.

None of this is going away. It’s a tough one but the profession must address the challenge of securing its future talent and rising up the league table must be seen as a priority.

  • Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

Readers' comments (3)

  • The graduate job market for civil engineers is very bleak. I graduated in 2009 and was very luck to gain a job out of a 100 other applicants. My friends who went on to study Msc’s still cannot gain employment. They are now battling with the graduates of 2011 to get work and it’s only going to get worse. Looking through recent graduate vacancies most want a graduate with 2 years experience! Local employers are not hiring graduates and the ‘big’ firms all want top degrees in exchange for £20,000 a year. Poor salary, poor opportunities and poor prospects mean Civil Engineering is no longer appealing as it used to be! Expect numbers of new students taking up engineering to fall dramatically in the next few years and those studying Accountancy and Business to rise.

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  • This is a very short sighted approach - in a few years time the profession will be screaming about a shortage of skills and be wondering why students are not attracted to the industry.

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  • I agree with Phillip. Starting salary is not important. You choose a career and are likely to work in a profession for fifty years. I quit an arts degree to go back to college and get the right A-levels for a Civil Engineering degree. I saw from the outside how Engineers talk sense and the type of projects they make a contribution to. Poor salary, poor opportunities and poor prospects are the fate of those who did not take their degree seriously and maybe do not really want a career in Civil Engineering. I would suggest that these people would go and study Accountancy or Business instead and leave the Engineering profession to those who really want to be a part of it.

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