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Race to recruit

Consultants are competing to fill roles amid a growing shortage of geotechnical engineers, finds Jon Masters.

Demand for experienced geotechnical engineers has remained strong in recent years, buoyed by work overseas, as well as the commercial building and energy sectors. With the re-emergence of growth in infrastructure in the UK, the heat is on to find more new and experienced recruits.

David Beadman, director of geotechnical consultant Byrne Looby, says recruiting staff with the right aptitude has been difficult for the past two to three years. Major projects such as High Speed 2 are soaking up a lot of available talent, he says.

The wider engineering industries are facing up to an urgent need to attract young people to science-based careers. For companies such as Byrne Looby, there is the dual challenge of recruiting from a limited pool of qualified engineers, while also attracting less experienced people to a career in geotechnics.

“There is certainly a shortage of skilled people coming into this field,” says Beadman. “When recruiting graduates, it’s important we get people early in their career. Providing they have the right basic understanding of soil structure interaction, then they can build a very good career in geotechnics.

“Work is picking up, and as we’re taking on more graduates and apprentices, we need more experienced engineers as well”

Lisa Tyler, WSP

“This is a very interesting area of industry because it always requires engineering judgements,” he adds. “Ground is very rarely defined or investigated as well as it might be, so the profession needs the judgement of experienced staff, informed by the less experienced.”

Beadman says the solution to this skill shortage is mostly a matter of showing young people that they are in demand and that there is great satisfaction to be had from the job.

Other firms recruiting in the sector include WSP, which has vacancies for 10 to 15 experienced geotechnical engineers. “They are not easy to come by,” says WSP recruitment specialist Lisa Tyler. “Work is picking up, and as we’re taking on more graduates and apprentices, we need more experienced engineers as well.”

WSP has been on a drive to raise its profile of late, partly to aid its recruitment efforts. “It’s difficult to directly measure the success of this, but as a brand, we’re better known now,” says Tyler.

“We’re finding advertising is still the most effective recruitment method, plus we have our offices aligned with their local colleges. Improved Business Partnerships have worked well for us as well.”

Aecom is now closing in on its recruitment target for the time being after a six-month campaign, says the firm’s practice area lead for geotechnics, Peter Boyd. “We’ve recruited through the normal mix of advertising, links with universities and an employee referral system,” he says. “Word of mouth goes a long way, and we’ve recruited quite a lot of engineers from overseas via Imperial College London’s MSc programme.”

Another consultant, Atkins, has in recent years refocused its geotechnical teams on energy and overseas markets. Increased work in road and rail projects means that Atkins is now looking to take on another 50 recruits over the next 12 months, to add to its 30-strong UK geotechnical, tunnelling and engineering geology team.

“Mid-grade staff are the most difficult to recruit, and it is here we are currently focusing further attention, particularly regarding our training and development programmes,” says an Atkins spokesman.

“Last year, we launched our professionals programme to support staff post-chartership and help them reach their next career goals. One aim is to help our mid-grade staff feel they have a voice in the future direction of the company. They are our future leaders and we are looking to them to find and develop our next big ideas.”

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