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Missing recession sparks recruitment bonanza

A CIVIL ENGINEERING recruitment boom has been sparked by a growing belief that the construction sector is not now heading for recession.

The surprise recruitment surge is also leading to salary increases of up to 25% on the same period in 1998 in some civil engineering disciplines.

Surrey-based recruitment agent Taylors said demand for staff in August was up 30% on July, while London firm Euro Elite reported it was supplying up to 55% more personnel during August than in the same month last year. Hays Montrose is claiming a record third quarter for its civil and structural engineering recruitment divisions.

NCE itself has carried 38 recruitment pages in its first two September issues, compared to 27 for the same issues in 1998.

The unexpectedly strong demand for engineers, particularly graduates, is helping confound fears that recession could hit the construction industry.

Confidence in the market has been growing in the last six months, with volumes of work continuing to increase this year, albeit at a slower rate than in 1997-8. It is now believed a 'plateau' is emerging which will usher in sustained levels of activity with predictable earnings (NCE 19/26 August).

Employers are increasingly having to pay higher salaries to secure staff. Gibb human resources manager Caroline Blanchette said the firm was 'getting the right people' but generally at higher prices than anticipated. Richard Dobell, director of recruitment firm Beresford Blake Thomas, said salaries were up by 25% for the best engineers in disciplines such as structural or environmental consultancy.

He claimed the jobs boom was due in part to a temporary hold on recruitment towards the end of 1998 and in the first months of this year. Firms were waiting to secure new contracts and monitor workload but now, with healthy order books, they are having to make up the shortfall in their workforces.

Euro Elite managing director Willem Selles said demand was so great that his firm is increasingly drawing in recruits from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Many of the UK's largest engineering firms have confirmed that recruitment levels have held constant or increased in recent months and are predicting slow but steady growth of business.

Despite the lingering effects of last year's South East Asian economic collapse on work overseas, UK markets such as transport and water, environmental consultancy, structural engineering and project management are strong.

Firms are particularly busy in London, south east England and Ireland. And significant activity is reported in northern England.

Babtie Group marketing and business development director Allan Wall said 60 graduates were being sought by the firm this year. Binnie Black & Veatch is adding to its engineering personnel at a rate of 5-10 each month.

Andrew Mylius

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