Increased funding and a buoyant property market are combining to create a need for more flooding specialists, as Jon Masters reports.
Several different factors are working together to increase demand for civil engineers experienced - or looking to specialise - in flood risk management. Inclement weather is obviously a major influence. The high rainfall, storms and resulting flooding earlier this year brought the government response of a six year commitment of capital spending on flood defences worth over £300M a year up to 2020/21.
At the same time, housebuilding has returned on the back of the recovering UK economy, bringing with it specific demands for flood analysis. The major water companies also have significant sums to spend on increasing their capacity to cope with sudden severe stormwater flows.
“We have about seven different specialist fields of civil engineering, all associated with managing flood risk,” says WSP senior technical director for water Hamish Hall, who says the consultant is recruiting engineers with a background or interest in this type of work, and training them in two or three flood risk specialisms. “We want to ensure they get a varied and interesting career, and we want to have resilience for the long term. If demand for one specialism drops, there will be need for others.
“We’re seeing greater realisation of the benefits of management of water, rather than just chucking concrete at the problem of flood protection”
Hamish Hall, WSP
“Our work just in flood prevention is very diverse,” he adds.
Hall says the company has noticed work starting to pick up in the last few months due to the legacy of the past winter and the development market being back on the up. “With flooding at the forefront of minds, developers are paying more attention to the issue,” he says.
“There is now a noticeable shift to river restoration projects, which need specialist skills, and we’re seeing greater realisation of the benefits of management of water, rather than just chucking concrete at the problem of flood protection. We’re getting a lot of scour assessment and prevention work, and our coastal flood risk and erosion team is growing.”
Peter Brett Associates (PBA) is also expanding its flood teams, and setting up new ones. It is currently recruiting engineers to join a new flood risk management team in Manchester. Senior engineers are also needed to strengthen PBA’s existing teams in Birmingham and Reading.
“We continued to recruit graduates during the recession, and benefited from not having all of our eggs in one basket,” says PBA water management director Katherine Pygott. “We now have an ambitious growth strategy that will see the practice almost double in size.”
The firm’s work in flood risk management ranges from feasibility studies to strategy development for public and private sector clients.
For Mott MacDonald, which has a UK flood team of around 125, growth is expected to be gradual. Work has noticeably increased over the past few months, says the consultant’s principal hydraulic engineer Richard Gamble.
“We are recruiting, but not aggressively,” he says. “So far we’ve managed with what we already have, although it is likely we will look to increase by at least 10% over the next 12 months.”
Gamble adds: “We have quite a lot of work overseas, in Ireland and in Eastern Europe, where there is a need to catch up with European flood directives.”
In the UK, extra funding will help the Environment Agency get through its list of prioritised work packages and, a commitment by water companies to reduce flooding will also generate more work for the industry.