CIVIL ENGINEERING and construction firms are finding it tough to recruit the right staff to meet the needs of their slowly building workload. It is a situation found across disciplines in big and small firms.
Certainly, young engineers in their 20s to mid-30s seem to be the most in demand.
Structural design and transportation engineering skills are in the shortest supply, but other disciplines, including project managers and water engineers, are becoming areas for concern.
According to WS Atkins technical director Bob Haywood the problem is becoming acute.
'We are desperate to recruit high quality graduates, recently or near qualified engineers and engineers around 35 years of age, ' he admits.
Even the offer of what Haywood considers 'top of the range salaries' and additional employee benefit packages such as settling-in allowances is not attracting the required personnel.
The 30-40% drop in applicants for built environment courses at university has been compounded by the cream of the graduates leaking away to take up careers in other industries. The primary reason for this continues to be the low salaries offered by civil engineering firms.
With Lord MacDonald's 10 year plan for transport spending due out in July, and the rail and water industries gearing up to implement some serious investment plans, the demand for engineering skills is set only to grow.
The general consensus is that employers want and need qualified and experienced engineers. But flexibility seems to be the key word among employers, with engineers being urged to adapt to the workload and to work in disciplines that they have not necessarily been in before.
But there remains the problem that while some employment agencies are looking to fill between 40 and 50 job vacancies for traffic engineers with increased salaries to reflect this demand, the larger more established companies are still not as willing to pay premium rates. These firms, it seems, prefer to weather the storm with the skills they have.
Rather than paying short term premiums, firms still seem to prefer to hang on in the hope that a way will be found to encourage young students to consider civil engineering as a career.
Babtie chairman Henry Perfect believes the industry has to act now by starting to do more to attract people, at both ends of university courses.
'As an industry we must make ourselves more attractive, ' he says. 'The outsiders' image of civil engineering is not a good one. It is seen as confrontational and difficult to understand, with a claim mentality eating away at industry profits.'
Perfect adds: 'The industry needs reinventing and repositioning if we are to attract and more importantly retain quality people.'
Multi-disciplinary contractor Brown & Root, has a similar philosophy. The shortage of engineers, must be tackled by grabbing the attention of school kids, explains communications manager Ken Beedle. The firm is doing its bit in this respect, through an on-going programme of working with schools and higher education institutions.
Gibb director Scott Steedman believes the shortage of staff is part of a natural cycle. He says that flexibility within the workforce is the key to managing the shortages. And this could also be the key to those in the industry better capitalising on their talent.
As an industry we should be 'galvanising people to bring themselves up to speed', he adds.