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We cannot afford to lose the industry's young talent

How many graduates will your firm take on this year? Chances are it will be fewer than last year and perhaps a fraction of the intake five years ago.

It’s a worry. As NCE has so often pointed out, if we are to learn any lessons from past downturns, it is the need to maintain the flow of graduates entering the profession.

Of course, for most firms know this is the accepted wisdom. They know that a stable and capable workforce is the key to driving more quickly out of recession.

But it is another matter to ensure that this objective is achieved in practice.

While the mantra of “we must invest in the future” rings loud, the competing “how can I reduce my fixed costs?” question is equally compelling. Faced with the very real prospect of clients hacking 25% to 40% off their spending budgets, it is a very bold person who genuinely sees this as a moment to take on any new staff, let alone a bunch of graduates who will struggle to pay their way.

It is appropriate, therefore, that the ICE will next week host a cross industry gathering to come up with innovative ideas to help the industry avoid the recruitment mistakes of the past. The session should help find some practical solutions to this thorny yet incredibly important issue.

Earlier in the year the Association of Graduate Recruiters highlighted the difficult situation facing graduates. It estimated that the number of applications per vacancy had surged in 2010 to a record of 68.8, way ahead of the 48.8 applications per vacancy of 2009.

Few civil engineers will have been surprised to read this estimate. The reality of the economic conditions and the reduced volumes of work means that firms have to be extremely careful about recruitment.

Many will continue to trumpet their on-going commitment to graduates, but the reality is that numbers will inevitably fall.

The good news is that the breadth of disciplines and backgrounds required in the teams delivering modern infrastructure projects is immense. While there is certainly a critical need for outstanding technical engineering skills we are now also seeing an increase in demand for a much wider range of over-laid softer skills.

And it is all of this talent that NCE is now once again seeking to reward with our annual Graduate Awards, which launched this week and which are seeking entries.

As we demonstrate every year, these awards are a great celebration of the industry leaders of the future and act as a vital benchmark to remind us of just how high the talent bar is now being pushed.

So don’t forget to put forward your best talent for this year’s awards. But perhaps even more importantly, don’t shy away from the need to constantly refresh the talent pool by ensuring you continue, by whatever means possible, to take on a decent quota of new young talent.

  • Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

Readers' comments (1)

  • When I finished my degree in 1991 it seemed I had two clear choices, Civil Engineering or Banking. Both were actively looking for young tallent. Banking's reputation has taken a bit of a hit recently, so why now would I chose to be an engineer?

    Whilst on site last Saturday evening, I was led to believe that a number of UK based roped access bridge inspectors had been made redundant only to be replaced by a team being flown in from Bangalore. Though I have no doubt as to the professionalism of the inspectors I am concerned that any detail lost in translation could have significant negative impacts on public safety.

    I understand that we live in an increasingly global society and many consultants have global businesses, I am struggling however, to work out how sustainable this approach to people really is. Given the ownership of the majority of the UK bridge stock, I can only assume that public money is being spent to carry out these inspections. There may well be a cost saving to for the consultant, but what is the hidden cost on the public purse? This looks rather like the thin end of the wedge... and with an increasing burden on society as we redistribute wealth outside the country, are such firms not hammering nails into their own coffins?

    So if I was standing at that cross roads, wondering which way to go. Im not sure that I would chose an industry that may soon decide that designers in an emerging ecconomy could do the work for less. Banking sounds like a much safer bet.

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