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Following the money

Civil engineering presents many work opportunities, despite the economic downturn, as infrastructure projects in the UK and abroad gather pace. Report by Olivia Gagan.

As order books thin out in the wake of the government’s recent spending review, it would be understandable for civils graduates and those looking for a new role to be dispirited by the lack of visible, high-budget projects currently underway or planned for the country.

But there are still exciting projects to be found in the UK, not to mention overseas.

Water company United Utilities head of civil engineering Peter Duffy’s advice for civil engineers looking for work in 2011 is to be prepared to diversify.“The first step is to revisit your PDP [personal development plan]. Think about your career aspirations and remind yourself what it is you are trying to do.

“If your ideal role is not available, many others provide opportunities to develop a competence or increase your knowledge in some way.”

“If your ideal role is not available, many others provide opportunities to develop a competence or increase your knowledge”

Peter Duffy, United Utilities

A brave move is to go abroad. Brave but also, perhaps, sensible. The recession that has hit many Western countries has not affected others, with India, Africa and China all experiencing rocketing growth and with it the need to recruit skilled engineers. A number of foreign mega-projects offer variety and scale and, crucially, are not pressurised by public spending cuts.

The cachet of having a British engineering qualification is still a major boon to the job hunting civil engineer abroad. As UK Trade & Investment international specialist Chris Wall confirms: “UK excellence is required. And UK expertise is recognised as the best in the world.” Skills indigenous to the UK engineer – a strong support network, internationally recognised training – add value to international projects.

Here is NCE’s round up of the best and brightest future recruitment opportunities, worldwide.

UK & Europe

United Utilities has a £3bn capital works programme, which will deliver improved water and wastewater services to 7M people in north west England. As a result, it is looking for more engineering staff.

“To fully develop and deliver the programme we need to increase our numbers, especially in geotechnical and hydraulic engineering,” says Duffy.

“We have also taken a commitment to increase our graduate intake for the next four years.”

London’s £15.9bn Crossrail project will run beneath the capital, connecting Heathrow airport with Maidenhead, Shenfield, Abbey Wood, the West End, Canary Wharf and the City of London.The line will also join the UK’s Great Eastern and Great Western railway networks. It will include a new 21km twin bore tunnelled section and it is estimated that Crossrail, which is Europe’s largest infrastructure project, will employ up to 14,000 people at the peak of construction in 2013/2015, with an estimated further 7,000 jobs created indirectly.

In Ireland the Dublin Area Rapid Transport (DART) Underground is another Crossrail-like project. An Arup/Halcrow joint venture developed the preliminary design, and four consortiums have been shortlisted to construct the 8.6km line, 7.6km of which will be tunnelled. Construction is due to begin in 2012 and the line is expected to be operational in 2018.

“We would prefer to tender 100% of the work to European firms”

Philippe Corréa, Fusion for Energy

On the Continent, one major employment opportunity comes from the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) – a vast £9.5bn project located in southern France to research and investigate nuclear fusion power.

Project members include Japan, the United States and Russia, but as the major partner in the trans-national project, the European Union (EU) is responsible for all of the civils infrastructure and buildings, with civils work worth at least £1.2bn.

Fusion for Energy is the organisation leading the EU’s involvement in the project. The final tendering arrangements have yet to be decided, says its head of procurement Philippe Corréa.

“But we would prefer to tender 100% of the work to European firms – the EU does after all have to produce the civils work.”

Corréa adds that Fusion for Energy would prefer EU-wide consortiums to bid for it, and British firms have already performed well, with Atkins part of the architecture and engineering consortium, and Halcrow part of the engineering support contract.


Libya is currently home to one of the largest infrastructure programmes on the planet. Valued at around £32bn, the job is no simple feat - civil engineers have been tasked with rebuilding the country’s entire infrastructure network, hauling it out of the 1970s and into modernity.

US giant Aecom is managing the project. Chief executive for international government services James Thompson says: “Imagine the road outside your window, under its current usage, and completely ripping it up and replacing everything – putting in potable water, replacing wastewater, putting in gas lines, telecoms and IT systems – everything.

“And managing the life and traffic around that, and then rebuilding everything back in an improved state.” Individual tenders are regularly in the £300M to £600M range and Aecom is continually packaging projects.

Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, has outgrown its central business district, and the solution has been to build a new one on a new artificial island. Consultant Royal Haskoning has been masterminding the technical development of this project, which is valued at £1.7bn.

While the main civils works are nearing completion, there will be significant opportunities for engineers to build high-rise offices and housing.

Middle East

Part of a £15bn plan to break Abu Dhabi’s dependence on oil and launch itself as a major exporter, Khalifa Port will cover 40km2 and have a capacity of 22M.TEU (twenty foot equivalent units). The Industrial Zone will also house 30,000 people.

Halcrow and Bechtel have already constructed a huge offshore port island, linking it to the mainland with the United Arab Emirates’ longest bridge.

But the real work begins once the port is complete – Abu Dhabi aims to reduce its reliance on oil to 50% of GDP by 2030, and the Khalifa Port and industrial zone will be crucial to the success of these plans, by investing heavily in new industries.

“We need the infrastructure to populate the site”

Tony Douglas

Its newly installed chief executive Tony Douglas estimates that the industrial zone is two-thirds the size of Singapore.

Like Singapore, Abu Dhabi aims to import raw materials and transform them into something useful, arranging companies in clusters, around key primary producers.
Civil engineering opportunities will soon present themselves, says Douglas. “So far we have one trailblazer tenant and hundreds of others have expressed interest across a range of sectors from metals to glass, paper and pharmaceuticals. We also need the infrastructure to populate the site – schools, hospitals and so on.”

Hong Kong

The Shatin-Central metro line is a £3bn scheme in Hong Kong connecting a 17km stretch traversing several Hong Kong districts. Like Crossrail and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project, the massive rail works programme has been on the drawing board for the best part of a decade and the project is now in the design phase.

Two lines – a north-south corridor and an east-west corridor – will be built, with extensive tunnelled sections and an overhaul of Hung Hom station which interchanges with a major commuter line. Hung Hom will be transformed into a major interchange, with new platforms built under the existing station.

Bolstering more than 70 station columns will make this the largest underpinning job ever attempted in Hong Kong. Construction is expected to start next year with operation to begin in 2015.

There is a £1.6bn scheme designed to relieve the almost permanent congestion along the northern waterfront of Hong Kong Island’s financial district

Also in Hong Kong, the Wan Chai reclamation & bypass is a £1.6bn scheme designed to relieve the almost permanent congestion along the northern waterfront of Hong Kong Island’s financial district.

Three-lane cut and cover highways will be built into land freshly reclaimed from Hong Kong’s Victorial Harbour. At around 4km, the project will be among the most expensive roadways to be built anywhere in the world. Aecom is project manager.

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