I am frequently asked by hiring managers and HR about what is happening in the market, and I have put together a short update on some of the current trends in technical recruitment in civil and structural engineering.
What are companies doing?
SME’s lead the charge
Over the last few months, SME companies have been the most active in looking to hire engineers and technicians. With little slack in their system, the impact of winning a new project, or someone leaving, means that these companies go from inactive to urgently in the recruitment market overnight.
Confidence, capability or cost?
Permanent, Permanent, Permanent; Companies are favouring permanent hires over and above taking on contractors. Now, and more than any time we can remember, a cynical view of ‘the contractor' is taking hold.
This is partly related to the elevated cost of contractors, partly due to companies wanting to build their in-house capability and some companies simply feeling more optimistic about their future workload. Many are holding out for the right permanent hire.
The hottest CV in town
Intermediate engineers (c. 4years experience post-graduation) are the hottest CVs in town, these engineers are able to join a business and get on to chargeable work quickly. If you have these engineers in your business, look after them. If you're trying to hire them, get good at selling your business and opportunity, they have their pick of projects and jobs, so you'll need to make yourself stand out.
Regional competition for talent
Whilst London continues to offer engineers and technicians the greatest variety of employment and project opportunities, we have seen Birmingham, Manchester, and Bristol catching up on a number of fronts. SME consultancies based in or with regional offices in these locations are becoming increasingly active. I suspect their lower cost base has been helping them to win projects.
Overall, most recruitment is still re-active and caused by a need to replace. A strong sense of caution is slowing down hiring decisions, and the risk-averse are being very picky about who they hire, even when it is a distressed purchase.
What are candidates doing?
Engineers are doing their homework
When searching for a new job, engineers are being “engineer-like”; their typical traits of analysis, detail orientation and thoroughness are driving their behaviour. And just like employers, engineers are doing their due diligence before making a decision.
Civil Engineers not moving
Civils candidates are especially cautious, only moving if they have to, which is creating severe candidate shortages. Structures candidates are behaving somewhat more speculatively, making things a lot more fluid.
Smaller Consultancies in favour
We are seeing a trend of engineers looking to move from large companies to SMEs becoming more prevalent. It's a professional and career driven choice; after having gained the support to become Chartered, they are looking for more involvement, responsibility, and variety from smaller projects or design-led consultancies.
Even some of the best career contractors are experiencing big gaps between contracts, despite an uptick in hiring on HS2 & Crossrail2 earlier in 2018, there simply is not the demand for contractors anymore. Some are making the move back to permanent, but many are waiting for large infrastructure projects to ramp up, hoping the market will return soon.
What else is going on?
The end of the technician?
Technicians are in decline, we are seeing fewer and fewer technician jobs. Companies have been training up software savvy graduates, who can do their own drawings, and large companies have been offshoring CAD. It's no coincidence that many of the out of work career contractors are technicians.
Residential projects are keeping companies busy, but low margins are making companies hold back from growth. Many are keeping a watching brief, waiting for higher margin commercial projects to sign and move forward again.
Internal recruitment rethink
We are seeing larger companies questioning their internal recruitment strategies and are re-engaging with more recruiters. Large companies seem to be struggling to find the engineers they need and some are moving away from doing it all in-house.
Liability for contractors
The HMRC’s off-payroll tax consultation closes on the 10th of August, and many expect that the liability for determining a contractor’s employment status will move to employers in the private sector, just as it did in the public sector in April 2017. We are watching this closely and will update you with developments. If introduced, hopefully the implementation will be less chaotic this time.
BREXIT, its impact on signing projects and how it will affect the civil and structural skill pool, still looms large and hopefully as the year progresses and with the UK Government's, recent announcement of the long-awaited settlement scheme, the picture should become clearer.
These are unusual times for civil and structural engineering. Cautious businesses at the same time as candidate shortages make the future very difficult to predict.
It will not take many projects starting up at the same time to re-kickstart the market for contractors, but right now it feels like it is more a question of if, than when?
I will update you again in the autumn, but in the meantime, if you would like to discuss any aspect of this update or any employment and recruitment matters, please get in touch.
Associate Director of the Built Environment – FRAME Recruitment