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What does your employer do for you?

Whether you are just starting out on your engineering career, or a seasoned professional looking for a new challenge, it can be a daunting task deciding where to go (or stay). So let this inaugural Employers Review do the legwork for you.

In this section we feature the Employer Review 2008 awards and a listing in which firms have come clean on what they offer... And what they don’t.

What is your dream job? Setting aside the unrealistic – the tropical island, year-round sunshine, multi-million pound salary – what is it that’s really important to you when it comes to choosing which company you want to work for?

For some it is the variety of projects, while others may be looking for flexible working hours, a good social life, company car or pension scheme. Or maybe it’s as simple as a high salary and the promise of a seat on the board.

While you may know how your current employer shapes up against your wish list, it’s not always easy to know what other firms are offering.The listings in this Employer Review give a range of information about 127 of the leading civil engineering employers in the UK. They should help you compare what’s on offer and weigh up the pros and cons if you’re thinking of making a move.

In addition to the information shown in the listings, we also asked employers a number of other questions, which were answered confidentially and give an interesting snapshot of employment conditions across the industry.

For many new graduates the first priority is to ensure they are going to a company with an accredited ICE training scheme. Surprisingly, given that these are all companies employing civil engineers, more than a quarter of those listed do not offer an accredited scheme. While this may not worry mid-career engineers too much, the absence of an accredited training scheme is likely to curtail their opportunities for getting involved with graduate development and mentoring young people.

Understandably, graduates are not just interested in their training, but also how much they’re going to get paid. The results of the Employer Review questionnaire show considerable variation, from £16,000 right up to £30,000. The bulk (62%), however, fall between £20,000 and £24,000.

At the other end of the spectrum, we asked companies to tell us how much their highest paid civil engineer was earning. This figure is not simply an indicator of general salaries for senior professional staff, but is also a good way of identifying how far up the company ladder civil engineers can get. While there were a handful of companies where the highest salary is less than £50,000, almost half (49%) said they were paying between £50,000 and £75,000, and 34% between £75,000 and £100,000. At 14 companies the highest paid civil engineer earns more than £100,000, with the top salary being £350,000.

Potential to reach the highest echelons of management is also revealed in the listings, with companies asked to state how many of their board of directors are civil engineers. Only six firms have no civil engineers on their boards, but the figures show that representation is still quite low in most companies. Also low is the number of women on boards, suggesting that senior management is still dominated by men, despite enormous efforts by the industry to attract people from wider populations – including women and ethnic minorities.

In the survey, we asked companies to tell us what they were doing to ensure they have a non-discriminatory culture and, while a few said "nothing", or "surely that would be illegal?", most said they offered a range of employment benefits that were likely to ensure the company appealed to different people. A handful of firms said they were actively recruiting women and people from ethnic minorities, and some offer paid time off for non-statutory religious holidays.

While salary and career progression are important, many people also like to know that their individual achievements will be recognised – whether that be a pat on the back from the CEO or
a gift or money. We found a wide variety of mechanisms for rewarding performance, with 75 companies giving some form of financial reward for excellent work, and 63 giving gifts or gift vouchers. A few companies also rewarded excellent performance with extra holiday entitlement. The activities most likely to earn these rewards are technical excellence, winning work, a team player attitude, outstanding leadership skills and exceptional client service.

Most companies also offer some form of bonus scheme, with performance-related bonuses in operation at 59% of companies, and profit-sharing at 41%. In addition, more than 27% of companies said they have equity-based incentive plans and 21% give a holiday bonus (usually at Christmas). Interestingly, almost 20% of firms offer some form of retention bonus to hold on to key employees. A handful of companies also offer a bonus when staff qualify with their professional institution. More importantly, perhaps, engineers in more than half (53%) the companies listed get an automatic salary increase when they pass their Professional Review. And once they’ve achieved that milestone, in 91% of companies their professional membership fees will be paid by their employer.

Benefits packages vary hugely, from simple pension plans to childcare vouchers, health and dental care, medical insurance, cycling tuition, sight tests and car loans. Many of the bigger companies are adopting flexible benefits programmes, so employees can choose which benefits suit their lifestyle the best.

On the whole, most companies are adhering to statutory minimums when it comes to maternity and paternity benefits, although there are some notable exceptions, including enhanced benefits based on length of service with the company, and bonuses for mothers returning to work.

But salary and benefits are not the only things that matter. Flexible working is becoming increasingly important as employees try to match their working and home lives. In our listings, only 8% of companies offer no flexible working options – mainly smaller contractors and consultants. Among the others, half offer flexitime or flexible working hours to all staff and half to some staff, with the criteria varying from company to company. Working from home is also an option for some staff at 64% of companies, but only seven firms claim to offer it to all employees.

Social events can play an important part in building relationships within a company and most (84%) of the companies who responded to the questionnaire provide company-sponsored social events of one form or another. The most popular activity is staff outings, but breakfasts or lunches and golf tournaments also featured among a significant number of the responses (40%). More than 30% of companies also offer retiree parties or reunions, goal-orientated celebrations (for example on completion of a project or for meeting a financial milestone), company anniversary celebrations or staff and family outings, and a quarter have organised sports events
(other than golf).

Employers are coming under increasing scrutiny for their community and social impacts, so we asked firms about their philanthropic and community service activities. Just over half said they gave a regular percentage of their profits to charity, with the vast majority of those donating 1% of profit. However, the amounts do vary considerably, from 0.03% to a whopping 10%. Other philanthropic activities include allowing employees to use company resources for volunteer work (39%), organising volunteer work/fund raisers (36%) and matching employee donations to charities (28%). Only 12 companies said they have no involvement in philanthropic activities.

As well as general "good work", we also asked companies what they did to support the engineering community during the past year. Perhaps surprisingly, 20% either did not respond to the question, or said that they did nothing. However, 68% employed students working towards their degrees and 48% offered student sponsorships. Just under half the respondents said they supported employees in taking leadership positions in professional associations or committees, and 40% encouraged their staff to present technical papers at industry events, while 36% organised employees to mentor schoolchildren to promote maths, science or civil engineering.

A significant number of companies reported that they had employees serving as adjunct professors at colleges and universities, and one quarter were involved in industry research. Many of these activities can be seen as self-serving, in that they may lead to recruitment, either directly or indirectly. As such, it will be interesting to see if such high levels of support continue throughout the recession.

It can be difficult to pin down exactly why someone stays with a company – or leaves. No doubt the skills shortages of recent years have contributed to engineers getting itchy feet, and choosing to change employers more frequently than is usual. However, while the average length of tenure among the firms who responded is just over seven years, 28% of firms said their median tenure was less than five years. This was, to a certain extent, balanced by the four firms whose staff have all stayed for 20 years or more, and the one that responded, somewhat scarily,
that "people don’t leave!" Maybe that company has somehow managed to crack the tropical island/year-round salary issue.

What you need to know; from graduate starting salary to percentage of profit going to charity, the Employer Review compares conditions at the UK’s leading civil engineering employers. Graphs are based on information submitted by the employers in September 2008.
Click here for graphs

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