Halcrow believes the diversity of its staff has contributed to its success in securing work and growing as a business, as Margo Cole reports.
These days, 'diversity' has become something of a buzz word, laden with politically correct connotations. Clients fi particularly in the public sector fi ask you to prove your diversity credentials in order to get on select lists or win jobs, so your workforce gets reduced to statistics about ethnic background, sex, age, faith or sexual orientation.
Halcrow fi an organisation that would actually score quite highly on most clients' tickfibox charts fi takes a wider view of the issue. 'We don't take the narrow definition of diversity that a lot of organisations use, which is mainly around equal opportunities legislation, ' explains the company's human resources director Mandy Clarke.
'We think it is about recruiting, selecting, promoting and developing people on merit and ability.
'What's most important to us is the fit with the organisation.
It is about being able to do the job and potential for the future.
It doesn't matter to us what your age, sex, race or anything else is. ' Clarke believes that the company's culture, which promotes openness, attracts a wider range of people than others might, and the management consciously looks for different approaches among its workforce. 'We want people who look at problems in different ways fi not just analytical thinkers; people who have a range of approaches to the job fi for example we need both peoplefiorientated and task orientated staff fi and who re ect the society in which we operate, ' she says.
The result is a company that has received plaudits from organisations like Investors in People and Women in Science, Engineering and Technology for the diversity of its workforce without ever having adopted a formal diversity strategy.
'For an organisation like Halcrow that is having success from employing a diverse workforce, the differing requirements from public sector clients for monitoring and reporting can become a burden, and it diminishes the fact that we should view and value diversity in its widest sense rather than just for equal opportunities, ' says Clarke.
'Employing a wide breadth and range of people has helped us to be successful.
'We do equal opportunities monitoring and benchmarking, and we compare our statistics against the industry and others but we would never positively discriminate. What we are looking for is the right fit fi of skills, qualification, ability and knowledge. ' The company also fosters a culture where different disciplines are encouraged to work together, engendering respect where there might otherwise be a lack of understanding or an 'us and them' mentality. Although Halcrow is predominantly a civil engineering consultancy, less than two thirds of staff are civil engineers.
Other disciplines fi be they ecologists, transport planners, economists, landscape architects fi may approach problems in a different way to engineers, and encouraging them to work together opens everyone's eyes to potential new ways of thinking, resulting in holistic solutions.
Staff turnover figures, offer acceptance rates and the number of applications Halcrow receives for job vacancies indicate that its culture and approach to diversity are valued by many people seeking employment in the consultancy sector.
It is commonplace in today's market for clients fi particularly those in the public sector fi to ask companies to demonstrate their commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Broadly speaking, this is understood to mean any economic, social or environmental activities that a company undertakes above and beyond those required by law.
In the past CSR has been used as a convenient way for companies in polluting or controversial industries to try to improve their image. These days, however, clients, employees and business partners are likely to look beyond the glossy image to see what is really going on.
Halcrow board director Neil Holt says: 'We don't have a CSR programme, we have a mindfiset. ' That mindfiset stems from the way the company identifies itself.
'Our core value is about making a difference in people's lives, ' says Holt. 'Infrastructure is going to touch lives everywhere you go. It's the one sector of industry where you have the opportunity to touch people's lives either positively or negatively. ' One of the most obvious aspects of this is environmental impact.
Halcrow is ISO14001fiaccredited, and this year became the only UK consulting engineer to be registered under EMAS, the European Union's ecomanagement and audit scheme.
'We were audited not on the basis of procedures but on what we actually do, ' explains Holt. 'We try to encourage our technical staff to consider the environment in its widest context.
One of the big advantages of being independent is that we can set ourselves some much stricter behaviour codes and targets than some of our publicly owned competitors. We can take a view of something and not expect a shortfiterm return. ' Those behaviour codes extend to business ethics and corruption.
The company is a member of the World Economic Forum's anticorruption group and a founder member of the UK antificorruption forum.
Staff stories. . .
Civil engineer Graham Hindley began his career with Halcrow in 1993 purely by chance. When the job he had lined up after graduation fell through because of the recession, he went to the National Rivers Authority, and had just settled into his graduate training when he became aware that the engineering department was about to be reorganised into a client side fi which became the part of the Environment Agency fi and a consulting arm, which would be outsourced.
'I had only been there six months when we found out about this, but it was another two years before we were eventually privatised to Halcrow, so it was quite unsettling, ' he says. 'But in hindsight this thing I saw as a big threat at the time was one of the best things that happened to my career. ' Hindley, 37, is now a principal consultant, and advises organisations as diverse as Heathrow Express, Westfield (the developer behind the massive White City development in London) and water companies on asset management, risk and safety.
He also has responsibility for providing audited information to the water regulator on the performance of water companies.
His progression into this senior role has come from taking opportunities when they presented themselves. 'You have two choices in Halcrow, ' he says. 'You can either become a specialist in one discipline or look at the mass of work the company has. If you see an opportunity, Halcrow actively encourages that fi they trust us as professionals to use our engineering skills and apply them to different clients and challenges. ' Carly Tinkler Carly Tinkler, principal landscape architect at Halcrow's Worcester office describes herself as being 'passionate about colour'.
Before joining Halcrow Tinkler ran her own business, and worked on commissions in France, where she encountered colour specialists who apply scientific processes to the assessment of colour within the environment. The technique is well recognised there, but is still in its infancy in the UK.
Tinkler, 45, currently uses a French colleague to advise on Halcrow schemes in the UK, but is increasing her expertise in colour assessment. 'Traditionally we do environmental impact assessments, but we don't think too much about the colour of a building or structure, ' she says.
'It should be an integral part of the assessment process. ' The techniques include developing a 'colour palette' for an area, a development, or even an entire town or region, as has been done in France. Colour can also be used to create a specific impact fi either to camouage a structure or make it stand out fi but you need to understand the existing colours in the environment to make that impact work.
Halcrow's engineers are fast realising the benefit of Tinkler's knowledge, and she regularly advises them on which colours to choose for bridge beams, concrete ood defences and even road surfacing. 'It's not difficult to sell my skills within Halcrow, ' she says, 'because it has a wonderful logic to it.
People see that you get the right colour. '
Civil engineer Michael Yu has been working in China since 2001. China is an important market for Halcrow, and the company is fast establishing a reputation for its capabilities on large infrastructure projects. Yu is currently project director on the Chongzun Expressway fi a 119km long dual carriageway linking Zunyi to Chongqing.
He joined the consultant in 2000 after 10 years in the UK rail sector. 'I chose Halcrow because of its international reputation and because it offered a job that suited me, ' he says.
Yu, 50, was born in China; his degree in bridge and highway engineering is from Chongqing Architectural Engineering University, where he also taught.
He moved to the UK in 1986, initially as a research assistant at Salford University before undertaking a PhD at Leeds University.
'Before I went to the UK I was very much an academic person, ' he says. 'My study and work experience in the UK was like a door opening to a new world. ' Now Yu is using those techniques on one of the most complex road projects yet undertaken in China.
'Halcrow has provided me with a great chance to perform in the country I grew up in, a land I love and am also hugely in debt to, ' he says.
Dugald MacTaggart was offered early retirement at the age of 53 and he decided to take it fi but not in order to pursue a life of gardening and golf. Instead, he joined Halcrow.
'There was some temptation to retire completely, ' he says, 'but the skills I have gained throughout my career are highly valued by Halcrow. ' He joined the consultant in January, and is now a senior engineer in Halcrow's Edinburghbased Performance Audit Group (PAG). The group has a sevenyear contract with Transport Scotland to audit maintenance work on Scotland's trunk roads.
'I was aware of PAG, and had been told they were a hardworking, friendly bunch, ' he says.
'It means a lot to me if you've got good people to work with. ' MacTaggart's 34 year engineering career had been spent entirely in local government fi at Edinburgh City Council and Lothian Regional Council fi so the leap into consultancy could have proved tricky. 'For anyone, change can be difficult, ' he says, 'but my role at Halcrow has similarities with the work I did at the City Council. I didn't have a problem fitting in. I enjoy both the challenge of my role here and the social aspect of the job. Besides, I'm still much too young to be enjoying a life of leisure. ' Shaunette Babb Civil engineer Shaunette Babb is gaining huge experience on Halcrow's Broadland Flood Alleviation project in Norfolk. The £117 million PFI partnership with Edmund Nuttall is proving to be a good training ground for young engineers, including 31 year old civil engineer Shaunette Babb. 'The project is divided into compartments, ' she explains. 'You can be given a lot of responsibility for design within one compartment and then see it right through. I've just been on site for four months building what I designed. ' Babb fi originally from Barbados fi joined the Norwichfibased project team in 2004 after 18 months working on port schemes at Halcrow'sSwindon office. 'There were certain things that appealed to me about the project, ' she says.
'We were trialling a lot of soft engineering approaches, and there was an emphasis on sustainability. ' She wants to stay on the project for another two years, and intends sitting her ICE Professional Review in Spring 2007. After that she would like to work abroad fi ideally in the Far East fi at some stage.
As an active member of the ICE's Graduates and Students committee, Babb organises events, essay workshops and site visits for local engineers, including one to see ood defences in Holland.
'I don't like to sit back and wait for other people to do things, ' she says. 'If I want something I'll get up and be one of the drivers for it. '
Halcrow has. . .
Halcrow awards fi financial help towards the cost of postgraduate study, such as an MBA, PhD or MSc
A flextime system that allows employees to take up to one day off a month in lieu of time worked
A staff council with a direct communication line to senior management and the chance to help shape company policy and air individual issues
A staff training budget of £5.2M
A management raining programme at Cranfield University
A 100% pass rate in the ICE Professional Review (spring 2006)
Regular staff surveys conducted by an independent consultant
Investors in People status.
A candidate referral system that offers up to £5,000 to any employee who successfully puts someone forward for employment
A defined grading structure and pay bands with role defnitions and terms of reference published openly on the company intranet
Structured career paths, based on regular personal career development interviews with managers
Personal benefts at all grades including a contributory pension, personal accident cover, private medical insurance and permanent health insurance
Loans for purchasing rail season tickets, rail cards and bicycles
Voluntary staff turnover of about 10% a year fi well below the national average
A savings related share option scheme
Halcrow has pledged that 0.5% of its profits every year will go into the newly formed Halcrow Foundation, the main focus for charitable activity within the company.
The Foundation was set up in 2005 with the aim of helping to alleviate hardship, poverty and suffering in various parts of the world by providing financial assistance, skills and expertise, training and practical support for infrastructure, education and livelihood development projects. This year the company will donate over £40,000 to the charity from its profits, with employees encouraged to undertake additional fund raising activities to boost that total.
Shares Halcrow is an independent company owned by a trust and shareholders. In the last year, the number of employees owning Halcrow shares increased from 13% to 17% of staff. The company operates a profitfisharing scheme and also aims to give bonuses in the form of shares in future.
Halcrow's 'Choices' flexible benefts scheme gives employees options to enhance their company benefts. These include switching to employer pension contributions to save money on National Insurance, buying up to six days holiday per year, buying additional private medical and dental insurance for partners and children, a childcare vouchers scheme; and a personal computer scheme.