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Scotland the rave

Scotland has an acute shortage of graduate engineers and technicians, says Susan D'Aish, civil and structural engineering recruitment consultant at Hays Montrose, Edinburgh, and past chair of the city's ICE graduate committee.

Here in Scotland, building, transportation and water engineering are experiencing something of a post-devolution boom, with a major upturn in the volume of design work.

Private consultancies bidding for PFI contracts are stretching resources to breaking point as Scotland experiences an unprecedented design skills shortage. So where have all the good men - and women - gone?

The late 1980s and early 1990s saw Scottish firms concentrating on thriving engineering markets overseas and south of the border. Limited opportunities initiated a trend among graduates to move south to take advantage of the opportunities in London, widely perceived as the design industry's epicentre.

The past 18 months, however, have seen a dramatic increase in public and private investment in construction projects in Scotland. The land of the brave now stands as arguably the single most promising European economy - one in which the young engineer can experience exciting and challenging career prospects.

Our experience suggests that the number of jobs for graduate engineers in Scotland has almost doubled in the past 18 months.

And this trend is set to rise further still, as a result of new Parliament policies on economic development, education, health and transportation. The current skills shortfall is centred around graduate engineers with several years' design experience, be it in building, transportation or wastewater. AutoCAD technicians with good detailing experience are also in high demand and many companies are more than willing to encourage and train technicians towards incorporated engineer status.

Graduate salaries are being In recent months, experienced graduates who look to relocate from London are guaranteed up to three interviews within a week by recruitment consultant Hays Montrose, with job offers typically being made within a month.

Mott MacDonald having recently established an office in Edinburgh is testament to the buoyancy of the Scottish construction industry. Divisional director, Alistair Cowan states that since opening last August, the office has more than trebled the predicted turnover to the year end.

'Staff levels have doubled from those anticipated and predictions are for further growth, specifically in the building design sector, ' he adds.

For graduate engineers with good building experience, the sky's the limit. Current projects in the capital include the £100M Ocean Terminal retail and leisure complex, the £209M Edinburgh Royal Joint Venture PFI hospital and £210M worth of new build roads and maintenance. This is a far cry from the neat refurbishments and local development traditionally associated with north of the border.

The water industry now accounts for almost half of all construction activity in Scotland and public expenditure and project investment is set to rise further over the next five years. Ian McAulay, the Scottish business manager of major water consultant Montgomery Watson, acknowledges 'a huge shortage' of experienced sewer network modellers in Scotland and says there is a constant need for engineering technicians with a practical understanding of civils work.

Since opening in Scotland in 1996, Montgomery Watson's turnover and staff levels have trebled. Work being carried out in the water sector includes the £120M Almond Valley Seafield and Esk PFI project and the £80M Aberdeen PFI project.

Unless the skills shortage can be overcome, Scotland remains a long way off realising its development potential.

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