The scale of the looming graduate recruitment crisis in the industry was made clear this week by the findings of NCE’s survey of UK universities with civil engineering courses. In short, civil engineering graduates across the country and across the disciplines are struggling to find work.
Anecdotal evidence provided by the employers attending ICE president Paul Jowitt’s recent gathering to discuss this critical issue highlighted the challenge.
Despite the knowledge that a healthy flow of new graduates into the profession is vital to the long-term stability of the business and key to ensuring we have the skills to break out of the recession, consultants, contractors, specialists and clients all reported taking on around 50% fewer graduates than last year.
On the face of it we would appear to be heading rapidly down the same disastrous path as in previous recessions, towards another missing generation of talent and the inability to cope efficiently when the workload returns.
Simple short-term economics of running a business are of course blamed. UK workload across the board is down and the prospects of major cuts to infrastructure spending in October’s Comprehensive Spending Review mean that employers have to cut back on overheads. With staff being the biggest cost for most firms, redundancies and recruitment freezes are the inevitable solution to the problem of staying alive.
“If we think of our industry as simply the designers and constructors of new public infrastructure projects in the UK, we will certainly have a problem.”
A quick scan of the results posted over the last month by firms in our sector highlights the situation, with most reporting revenues and profits down. Make no mistake, there is already a lot of pain out there. But worryingly there were some at the recent ICE meeting predicting that this was no short-term blip but the new norm. Public spending will reduce to a level affordable by the nation and the concept of delivering more for less means that there will be less in future, full stop.
I don’t share this pessimism. A quick look at UK infrastructure demonstrates that we in civil engineering have much to do. And if the public sector can’t pay, then given the vital, long-term and robust nature of investment in transport, energy supply and distribution, waste disposal and water supply, the private sector certainly will.
Then there’s the rest of the world. Infrastructure crises loom across the developed world, not least as we read this week, in the US, while expanding developing nations such as India and China present opportunities and potential markets for our skills.
So if we think of our industry as simply the designers and constructors of new public infrastructure projects in the UK we will certainly have a problem. And no need to recruit new graduates. But if we start providing the solutions to the world’s infrastructure creation, renewal and maintenance problem, then we have a future.
- Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor