More must be done

Wayne Holt is calling on the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) to address the unprecedented shortage of engineering skills in the UK

More must be done to encourage the brightest minds into civil engineering, a director of a Birmingham-based consultancy has said. According to Engineering UK, more than 1.2 million engineering roles will become available between 2014 and 2024 due to people retiring and an increased demand for engineers. That means 124,000 positions need to be filled each year. However, a shortfall of between 37,000 and 59,000 university and apprenticeship graduates is expected annually which could put major projects like HS2 at risk.

Mr Holt believes the ICE must increase its efforts to improve the profile and social standing of civil engineers. He said: “To become a chartered civil engineer you’re looking at completing your A-levels, followed by a Bachelor’s degree which is accredited with further learning, plus an accredited Masters degree.

“From starting university, it is generally at least seven years before you can sit your professional review and become a qualified civil engineer. Not surprisingly, academically or professionally minded people tend to go into banking or IT where it is possible to attain a similar standard of living over a much shorter period.

“This is one of the main reasons there will always be a shortage of engineers. For me, the ICE has to raise the profile of the engineer. I wholeheartedly agree that the qualification criteria must be maintained and I do not want to see this compromised as the profession can be very demanding, but there is an immediate need to address this issue. In places like France and Germany, civil engineers are very highly regarded. That’s not the case here.

“The word engineer covers a broad mixture of roles. You could be fixing a microwave or a TV. People don’t understand what a civil engineer is or does. It needs to be made more of an attractive profession so people consider it seriously and are willing to put in the time and study to attain the letters MICE after their name.”

Mr Holt said Design2e does all it can to attract the best employees by offering above average remuneration packages and good progression opportunities. “It’s a competitive market place with everyone trying to hire the best people,” he said. “You have to promote yourself well. We try to pay higher than the market rate and we offer 100 hours of training for every member of staff, every year, as well as slightly more holiday than you’d expect.”

Design2e holds an Annual Graduate Assessment Day to recruit the best possible talent from the traditional Red Brick universities, as well as other leading universities such as Warwick, Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth, Bath and Durham.

Skilled workers
Mr Holt believes the search to recruit new civil engineers should be encouraged further afield than the UK, and was concerned recently to note that hundreds of potential recruits had been denied visas to work on these shores in the last few months.

More than 6000 skilled workers were denied work visas from December 2017 to March 2018 as the cap on the number of people entering the UK from non-EU countries under a Tier 2 (General) Certificate of Sponsorship had been reached. In March alone, more than half of applicants were rejected. And of those 6000 disappointed people, almost 400 had been offered engineering jobs, including in civil engineering.

Mr Holt added: “The obvious implication of this is that hundreds of engineering jobs across the UK are not being filled – and that will inevitably damage productivity. At a time when this country desperately needs new homes and major infrastructure improvements, this is simply ridiculous. Construction plays a pivotal role in the economy of the country – and a cap will slow progress.

“The Government argues that we as employers should be looking for our staff in the UK before looking overseas. It is not that simple. We work hard with British universities to try and recruit the brightest talent, but not enough people are studying engineering. Doing more to increase the profile and social standing of civil engineers is a long-term goal – it will not address the shortages here and now. The current policy is not working for anyone – not for the Government, not for employers and not for the public, either.”

Design2e has a strong overseas contingent amongst its workforce, including engineers from both the EU and beyond. Mr Holt added: “In fact, just a few weeks ago we brought in two young engineers from China. The knowledge and experience they have is vital to our continued growth. If this country truly wants to be a global leader in construction and engineering, we need to welcome the best people here to Britain to work alongside our workforce. This is an issue which needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. The alternative is almost unthinkable.”

Wayne Holt is executive director at Design2e, a specialist structural and civil engineering practice for design and build contractors, developers and architects. Design2e has a high level of expertise, ranging from structural design, civil engineering and infrastructure design.
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