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Skills shortage predicted

THE UK GEOTECHNICAL industry could be on the verge of a major skills shortage.

A recent GE survey revealed that many firms are finding it difficult to find suitably qualified and experienced personnel.

'There are not enough young and enthusiastic people willing to join the profession, ' said one consultant. 'Salary and status levels have to be able to compete with other professions and careers. '

'There is a decrease in the number of graduate engineers specialising in geotechnical work, ' another confirmed. Others said the industry is also failing to attract and retain sufficient senior staff.

The survey was carried out as part of the compilation of Ground Engineering's annual UK Geotechnical Services File, published this month. More than 750 questionnaires were sent to consultants, contractors, manufacturers and suppliers active in UK geotechnics, using GE's extensive database. More than half of those sent a questionnaire responded.

Firms were asked to predict the outlook for the coming year in terms of staff numbers and workload: 58% expect staff numbers to increase (compared with 59% in 1999) and 76% expect workload to increase (75% in 1999).

Based on replies, the sector is estimated to be worth £750M and employs nearly 6000 professional geotechnical staff, including geotechnical engineers, engineering geologists and those involved in environmental work. Other estimates value the industry at about £1bn and employing up to 8000 geotechnical professionals.

There is also concern that funding for geotechnical masters courses may be severely hit over the next five to 10 years (GE May 2000), further affecting staff quality.

Ma in concerns cont inue to be t ight marg ins and late payments, short lead-in times and clients' lack of understanding of the need for good quality geotechnical information. 'The fundamental importance of obtaining accurate and appropriate geotechnical field data and observations is not always recognised, ' one contractor said. Respondents report continuing pressure from clients to spend less on site investigations, driving down the quality of work.

One warns that 'with current prices, industry will self-destruct'.

On a more positive note, grow th of the environmental, rail and housing sectors continues, with a move towards a risk-based approach to remediation. Clients appear more receptive to trying new technologies, particularly bioremediation and geophysics.

Opinion on the state of the UK civil engineering industry is divided. Some say workload remains low, with the demise of the road building programme, but others say it is buoyant and the outlook good, with an upturn in transport infrastructure projects in both the UK and Europe.

Technically, CFA piling is beginning to make serious inroads into the rotary bored and driven piling market on many projects. And information technology is being integrated into daily working, with electronic communication and data transfer becoming the norm.

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