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NCE100 What makes a truly outstanding civil engineering practice?

NCE100 | Recognising and rewarding outstanding civils firms

What makes a truly outstanding civil engineering practice?

Which firms are at the cutting edge of technical excellence and are embracing future technologies? Which firms are sharing best practice globally? Which firms are leading the way in talent development? And which firms are driving the equality agenda to make civil engineering a truly great place to work? This month New Civil Engineer can reveal all. Because our NCE100 is a totally new and exciting approach to finding, assessing, recognising and then showcasing the best civil engineering practices around today.

This is not a ranking based on money earned or staff employed. Instead our 100 firms have been selected following a painstaking process that has included in-depth company survey, employee satisfaction survey and finally the top 10 firms ratified by 12 leading industry clients.



The result is a list of firms that genuinely represents the great diversity of civil engineering employers. Of the 100, 29 are major enterprises, employing 1,000 or more staff worldwide. Another 20 are large firms, employing between 250 and 1,000. Twenty three more are mediumfirms, employing between 50 and 250, with the remainder small firms employing between 10 and 50 or micro firms employing less than 10. 

There is also a great blend of youth and experience: the oldest firm is Jackson Civil Engineering, founded in 1838; the youngest are Floodline Consulting and WME, both founded in 2011.

All had a fair chance of recognition, with the ratings taking account of size. All were assessed on their contributions to making civil engineering a great profession through their contributions to our five core pillars:

  • focusing on technical excellence
  • exploiting future technology, 
  • taking a world view, 
  • driving the equality agenda 
  • seeking to develop engineers of the future.

Throughout the following pages we have picked out the firms that scored top in each of these themes. But it is worth stressing that all 100 firms match up to our expectations and collectively there is so much to applaud.

The 100 club

In total, the NCE100 firms earn £51bn a year and employ 392,000 staff. In the last year they recruited 19,114 staff in the UK and 44,970 worldwide. 

But there is diversity in the type of recruit: of the more than 19,000 new UK joiners, just 2,489 were qualified civil engineers.

Talent development is a hallmark of a top firm and 85 of our 100 firms have ICE training agreements. The average pass rate is 85% and it typically takes four years for an  engineer to successfully sit and pass the review. Contractors generally outperform consultants here.The NCE100 firms recruited 3,514 graduates in the UK in 2015. They are also training 990 apprentices for a professional qualification.

Taking an interest in promoting the profession is also the hallmark of a good firm and 60 of our 100 firms have incentive schemes for employees who work with schools.

In total, the NCE100 firms brought 666 different technology innovations to market last year

The NCE100 firms offer up 2,498 science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) ambassadors.

Top 10 firms – Future Engineer

  1. Westlakes Engineering
  2. Opus International Consultants
  3. MWH
  4. Peter Brett Associates
  5. London Bridge Associates
  6. JBA Consulting
  7. Floodline Consulting
  8. Bam Nuttall
  9. JPP Consulting
  10. WestonWilliamson+Partners

Getting engineering in the media is also important, and pleasingly across the 100 firms, 1,010 appearances were made in the national media last year, with a further 1,690 local media appearances and 7,628 trade media appearances. 

A good civil engineering practice is one that seeks to maximise the use of technology. 

Women fill just 162 of 739 executive board places in the NCE100 survey – 22% of the seats available

 Of the NCE100, 81%have a digital strategy and a board director responsible for its successful implementation. 

Equally, 81% claim to be ready to operate in a building information modelling (BIM) Level 2 environment.

In total, the NCE100 firms brought 666 different technology innovations to market last year.

Top 10 firms – Future Tech


2. MWH

3. Expedition Engineering

4. Costain Group

5. JBA Consulting

6. Jacobs

7. TSP

8. Scott Hughes Design

9. Opus International Consultants

10. Skanska UK

Research and development as a percentage of turnover – a classic measure of innovative spirit – is 3% overall.

Best practice sharing

Proving that technical best-practice sharing runs through many of the 100, on average 41% of senior managers sit on industry panels and boards, with 13% of all staff – on average – getting involved in industry committeesand professional knowledge-sharing groups.

Top 10 firms – Technical Excellence

1. Thomasons

2. Costain Group

3. Arcadis


5. Black & Veatch

6. Atkins

7. Tony Gee and Partners

8. VolkerWessels UK

9. Conisbee

10. Opus International Consultants

Good firms take responsibility for making the construction and engineering workplace one that is welcoming to all by pushing the diversity agenda and by striving to be great and safe places to work.

On diversity, 87 of our 100 firms have diversity policies in place; 82 have a board director accountable and 18 have now signed up to Women Into Science & Engineering’s  (WISE’s) 10 Steps to Gender Equality initiative. 

On average, 25% of UK staff in the NCE100 are female; 11% are from ethnic minorities; 4% are over the statutory retirement age and just 1% are registered disabled. 

Glass ceiling still in place? It seems more needs to be done here. Women fill just 162 of 739 executive board places in the NCE100 survey – 22% of the seats available. 

On average, just 6% of the board will be from an ethnic minority.

Sharing best practice globally is another hallmark of a great firm and 57 of the NCE100 firms actively seek work abroad; of those that do, on average 26% of turnover is earned outside native territories. 

Top 10 firms – Engineering Equality

  1. Arup
  2. Opus International Consultants
  3. Clancy Consulting
  4. Peter Brett Associates
  5. Skanska UK
  6. Westlakes Engineering
  7. Scott Hughes Design
  8. WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff
  9. MWH

   10. Arcadis

When it comes to showing off what we do, the NCE100 has collectively won 308 international prizes in 2015, with 11 of them claiming Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in the last five years.

Top 10 firms – World View

1. Rendel

2. Hewson Consulting

3. Arcadis

4. Mott MacDonald

5. Opus International Consultants

6. Royal HaskoningDHV

7. Pell Frischmann

8. Atkins

9. Aecom

10. Arup

So how does it work?

The NCE100 firms are scored and ordered according to answers provided to our comprehensive company and staff surveys. 

The answers to both surveys are confidential and only used to score the companies; but we have been able to use the data to create top 10s for our core competencies. 

Companies entered into the NCE100 were invited to enter themselves into awards aimed at highlighting specific areas of brilliance. Ten of these awards were based around New Civil Engineer’s five core pillars – the five skillsets and mindsets that we believe make for a great civil engineer and a great civil engineering firm.

They’re a passion for technology, a passion for technical excellence, a passion for skills development, a passion for equality and inclusiveness and a passion for tackling problems at a global level.

Against each of those we have identified two specific activities and are making specific awards in those – 10 awards in all. These were assessed by a 30-strong panel of judges - clients, independent experts and peers. Written submissions were used to shortlist and then all candidates asked to present their capabilities to a selection of our judges.

We also wanted to pick out some firms that, through the thorough assessment process for the NCE100, have stood out in certain, specific areas. These are our “Companies to Watch – Editors Choice”.

Collaborative behaviours are also hallmarks of great companies. So we have also assessed firms on what they say about each other – about the way they behave with each other and their clients - and have used that information to draw out contenders for our awards for over-arching corporate excellence. These are our Collaborative Firm of the Year Award, Clients’ Choice Award and Client of the Year Award.

Finally, the NCE100 is designed to recognise the excellence in firms regardless of size, and our top 10 reflects this. But SMEs are often hotbeds of innovation and progressive thought, unencumbered by huge corporate machines and able to concentrate on delivering on the ground. So we have made an award for the top SME.

Where next?

All NCE100 companies join the NCE100 Club and will participate in a series of industry best practice sharing events over the next 12 months. Their achievements will also feature in New Civil Engineer.

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