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Redundancies loom as recession threatens

Engineers working in the housing market or in commercial property are the most vulnerable to job cuts.

Hundreds of engineers were this week facing the threat of redundancy as the credit crunch began to hit firms exposed to the collapsed housing and commercial property markets.

Construction employers exposed to the housing market were already making job cuts and others warned that job security in the industry was declining, especially in the commercial property sector.

The Chartered Management Institute said that only 24% of engineering managers felt safe in their jobs. And the UK’s biggest geotechinical contractor Roger Bullivant was this week in the final phase of cutting up to one quarter of its 1,172-strong workforce.

The firm has already made 57 compulsory and 15 voluntary redundancies after two rounds of staff consultations across all levels. It has also decided not to replace around 50 positions left vacant by recent leavers. More employees are expected to lose their jobs as the firm now enters its third and fi nal consultation period, with total cuts likely to reach 200.

"Generally the losses are from departments that are involved with housebuilding," said Bullivant director John Patch. "It is the housing sector that is the cause of the [redundancies] because it is, or was, a significant proportion of our business."

Meanwhile, Roger Bullivant (Ireland), a County Antrim-based firm licensed to install the UK firm’s products, went into administration last week, causing 19 employees to lose their jobs.

Redundancies are also starting become a very real threat for structural engineers, especially those whose firms have been reliant on work from the commercial property sector. Ramboll Whitbybird chairman Mark Whitby warned that anybody thinking their job in UK construction is secure is dreaming. "If we were a 200 strong firm with mainly UK work, I'd be much more worried," said Whitby. "There’s fantastic opportunities overseas, particularly for mobile young people."

Ramboll is recruiting staff for Russia, Dubai and Greenland in the next couple of months and Mott MacDonald said that it might need between 400 and 500 more staff in Dubai if four key contracts come in. Extra work from overseas offices is being taken on by the UK based staff of some firms. "WSP Middle East used to have to refuse work," said WSP Cantor Seinuk director Kamran Moazami. "Now they accept it all and pass it onto WSP London."

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