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Working through the '09 downturn

The threat of redundancy looms large over the profession this year, according to the results of the second NCE/Autodesk Civil Engineering Survey.

Incredibly over a third (380) of the 1,022 respondents taking part say that they are worried about their jobs. This is in an environment where six percent of respondents have been made redundant in the past six months and 63% say they are under pressure to work more efficiently.

The survey, conducted in July, gives a unique insight into the collective mind of the profession.

It is split into five key sections to explore civil engineers’ lives and to gauge opinions on your work, your careers, your industry and the wider political world.

Civil engineers remain convinced that the profession offers a good work life balance and that infrastructure investment is the best way to kick-start the troubled economy.

It reveals that despite the challenging economic circumstances, civil engineers remain convinced that the profession offers a good work life balance and that infrastructure investment is the best way to kick-start the troubled economy.

However, the fear of redundancy means that despite 81% saying that they are happy in their jobs, 24% are looking to move on in the next 12 months, with 30% of respondents considering a move overseas.

But the grass is not necessarily greener. Engineers working overseas have also taken part in the survey and are experiencing the same pressures − nine percent of respondents having been made redundant in the past six months compared with six percent in the UK.

Feeling the squeeze

It seems that wherever civil engineering professionals are based, they are feeling the squeeze as employers push them to improve performance. Civil engineers are working harder, often in their own time, as firms strive to improve their profitability.

Only 25% of respondents say that the recession means that they have less work to do, over half of respondents say that they are working the same hours but 25% are working harder than ever.

The same issues are affecting professionals regardless of where in the UK respondents come from.

Companies themselves are embarking on a range of measures to cope with the downturn including axing training budgets, restructuring, reducing fees, cutting salaries, taking back mobile phones and Blackberries, carefully analysing expenses and banning unnecessary travel.

The same issues are affecting professionals regardless of where in the UK respondents come from. But the results do highlight that graduate engineers are under pressure to work harder than any other age group with 33% of 20 to 25 year olds saying they are working longer hours.

Respondents tell NCE that this is because junior staff are being given an increasing amount of responsibility in an attempt to drive down costs. The following pages take you through the results of the survey section by section.

Section 1: About you

More than 1,000 respondents took part in the NCE/Autodesk survey including 83 professionals from overseas. The modal average respondent is a male civil engineer in his 30s. He works 30 to 40 hours per week, earns around £30,000 per year and lives in the south of England.

The proportion of women responding remained low at 12%. Last year just 11% of respondents were female.

Although 43% of respondents say that they work 30 to 40 hours a week, many report that they are working more in their own time in a bid to help their businesses through tough times. Officially, older staff are working longer hours with 46% of 40 to 50 year olds working 40 to 50 hours a week. This compares with just 33% of 20 to 25 year olds, 32% of 25 to 30 year olds and 40% of 30 to 40 year olds. But it is the 50 to 60 year olds that report the longest working week with 8% working more than 60 hours, compared to 1% of 20 to 35 year olds.

Section 2: About your work

On a personal level many civil and structural engineers identified the same concerns when asked about the single biggest issue affecting their working life. A lack of job security, longer working hours, increased pressure, less employment opportunities and low morale were most common.

And when it came to issues affecting their home lives, civil engineers said that fears over their future employment were leading to stress and in some cases even depression.

Older respondents commonly complained of the declining return on their investments and the prospect of having to keep working for longer.

Meanwhile, designers themselves had much to say about the design software available.

When it came to their home lives, civil engineers said that fears over their future employment were leading to stress and in some cases even depression.

In terms of software AutoCAD is by far the favourite with 83% of respondents using AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT for design work. This is decided by employers but its ease of use, compatibility with other project parties, and the cost of the software are also deciding factors.

However, there is definitely room for improvement. Designers would like to see more integration between the design packages. “I would like to see improvements in the compatibility with other drafting and design software and the ability to minimise file size and send to email incorporated within program,” suggested one respondent.

There is also frustration that software upgrades change formats and require more memory.

Section 3: Your career

Most respondents are happy with their current employer despite a sorry looking financial picture for engineers.

The survey reveals that 35% of professionals had their pay frozen over the last six months and 7% of respondents report that their pay has fallen. The situation has deteriorated since 2008 when just 14% reported a pay freeze and less than 3% had suffered from a reduction in salary.

The survey reveals that 35% of professionals had their pay frozen over the last six months and 7% of respondents report that their pay has fallen.

In terms of salary the proportion of high earners is also down with just 24% earning over £50,000 compared to 29% in 2008. Few report promotions. Only 21% of staff have had a pay rise of greater than 5% in the past six months, compared with 40% in the 2008 survey.

There has been less movement of staff this year too. Only 12% of engineers have moved employers in the past 12 months compared with 16% in the 2008 survey.

Finally, the picture across the UK is mixed in terms of fears over jobs. More than half (54%) of engineers in the north west are worried about their job, compared with just 26% in the east of England.

Section 4: Your industry

A convincing 65% said the industry’s use of applications such as building information modelling (BIM) are of benefit − a sentiment welcomed by Autodesk AEC sales manager-Northern Europe David York.

“The fact that almost two thirds of respondents think that BIM is important is highly encouraging − especially as BIM is not as firmly established yet in the civils community as it is in other sectors such as architecture,” he says.

“Despite the recession, many civil engineering firms are still in strong competitive positions. However, there’s a need for greater transparency and accountability, leaner methods, closer collaboration and more accurate ways of working to maintain this edge in a volatile global market.

“BIM can deliver all these, ensuring that firms can differentiate themselves and add value − and so maximise the global infrastructure opportunities arising now and in the future.”

Section 5: Your views on the world

Only 10% of engineers say they would vote for Labour in the next election.

The Conservatives lead the survey with 22% but a massive 36% remain undecided.

Confidence is also low in terms of how the government is handling key issues such as the economy, flooding, energy supply, climate change and transport with only 2% thinking that any of these issues are handled very well and around 50% thinking that they are being handled badly.

Survey respondents also said they want to see more investment in green technologies (81%) but are not supportive of road user charging with only 29% backing the initiative.

Survey respondents also said they want to see more investment in green technologies but are not supportive of road user charging.

In terms of tackling the UK budget deficit, many respondents say that the increasing tax revenues that will accompany eventual economic recovery is the most sensible way to plug the deficit in the long term.

And that this should be accompanied by more efficient spending by the government with reductions in the number of quangos and MPs.

Other suggestions included taxing air freight, charging non-UK vehicles for using our roads, raising tax on alcohol and cigarettes and raising VAT to 20%.

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