A fast-track into project management is the unrealised goal of many engineering graduates. Contractor Ringway is attempting to change that. Mark Hansford reports.
Poor pay and limited opportunities for personal and professional development were overwhelming favourites as 'the biggest deterrents to new recruits' in NCE 's recent poll of civil engineering contractors on the skills shortage (NCE 21 February). Three quarters of the employers polled admitted that poor pay was a major hurdle, while six out of 10 struggle to offer attractive career development.
In the same poll, nine out of 10 firms admitted to a significant shortage of project managers, making it the skill most in demand. Yet on average a graduate can expect to wait eight years before reaching that level.
Surely the solution is obvious?
Contractor Ringway certainly thinks so, with a new graduate training scheme designed to be a genuine fast-track into project and senior management.
'We were finding it increasingly difficult to find managers with technical knowledge and commercial acumen, ' explains business development director Mike Burnett. 'So we decided to tackle the problem through graduate recruitment and training.'
The scheme developed by Ringway is holistic, and begins at university. Ringway is a sponsor of the University of Surrey's civil engineering course, which offers around 20 such places each year.
Students gain vacation and sandwich year work experience with sponsor companies, and are matched with a sponsor company on graduation (NCE 11 April).
After graduation, the trainee engineers are enrolled on a fouryear graduate training programme, rotated through a variety of divisions within the company to provide a rounded knowledge and experience of both construction and management skills.
The programme received accreditation from the Institution of Civil Engineers 12 months ago, with the first batch of graduates now moving through the year one and two 'induction'. In this time they can expect to gain experience in core skills such as highway maintenance, management, specialist surfacing, health and safety, estimating and purchasing, and environmental management.
After this comes further development in areas such as consultancy, construction, general management, business development and commercial estimating to allow them to take control themselves.
'Within four to five years the graduates will be running £5M areas, ' says Burnett. 'We are offering responsibility at an early age, but within a supervised environment.
'Our policy is 'if you don't know, ask'. Asking questions is seen as a desire to gain an understanding from all angles, ' explains Burnett.
While it is hoped that the sponsorship at Surrey University will maintain a steady flow of graduates, Ringway is realistic.
A hectic programme of school visits in association with the Construction Industry Training Board aims to attract students, be it indirectly via university, or directly from GCSE.
The firm is also looking beyond the diminishing pool of civil engineering graduates for its future management: 'Some of our businesses are on the periphery of engineering, so there is no need for our future managers to be engineers, ' says Burnett. 'The training programme has been designed with this in mind.'
One year into the scheme, Burnett is confident that it is working. 'Feedback tells us that we are satisfying a need from a graduate training point of view now, and this means that we will satisfy a need for the company in the future.'