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FT REPORT – GRADUATE RECRUITMENT: Industry builds new image

By Miranda Green, Financial Times
Published: May 01, 2007

When it comes to attracting those graduates who want to work in engineering, the traditionally glamorous areas of automobile, aerospace and defence still seem to hold the trump card.

“It’s the boys’ games,” says Oliver Viel of Trendence. “Aeroplanes, rockets and cars still interest them the most.” According to the researchers who conducted the survey, these companies attract potential recruits in their droves because of long-established brands.

BMW, for example, has consistently topped the employer rankings across Europe. “They have a phenomenal brand and because of that they are really spoiled when it comes to recruitment,” says Mr Viel. But results in the UK show interesting differences with graduates in other parts of Europe, because the British students who favour a career in engineering seem to have a wider view of where they might like to work.

Perhaps because of the traditional importance of the North Sea, UK graduates are also considering the oil industry – Shell and BP make it into the top ten, with Exxon Mobil not far behind. In the construction industry, Atkins and Arup make it into the survey’s top ten, with Balfour Beatty securing twelfth place.

Construction is buoyant, with the 2012 London Olympics and the Liverpool City of Culture 2008 projects bolstering demand. Major infrastructure developments in water, road, rail and energy have also led to predictions of growth during the next few years.

According to Stephen Hill, managing director of Hill McGlynn UK, a recruitment company specialising in construction, the fact that you can see the physical output of your work is what attracts many to the industry. “One of the great things is that you can drive past some great new building and say ‘I did that’.”

Mr Hill believes that a career in construction offers a lot of the things graduates tend to look for in their future working lives: variety – because most of the work is based on time-limited projects – travel, as well as responsibility and creativity. There is also a serious skill shortage, so the prospects are excellent for graduates – particularly once they have amassed a bit of experience.

A big effort is being made to engage with the education system and inform students of the benefits of working in a sector that has previously suffered from a poor image.

Alongside presentations on campuses, and schemes to sponsor students, some companies have even gone into schools to encourage pupils to choose science subjects for GCSE and A-levels.

Costain, for example, runs a programme called “Building Awareness”, which aims to motivate young people to consider construction. Meanwhile, the Royal Academy of Engineering runs several schemes to improve links between industry and the education system, including the London Engineering Project, a £4m partnership of local schools, colleges, industries and the government.

All of this activity is starting to have an effect. Figures from the University and Colleges Admissions Service show the number of students choosing engineering courses at university has started to rise. According to the Engineering Employers’ Federation this could be due to the introduction of higher university tuition fees, which are making students think more carefully about which degree will help them pay off their debts.

The Federation says it is optimistic: “Last year, engineering graduates had a starting salary 7 per cent higher than average and the sector is now shedding its image as a sector of the past and becoming ever more attractive as a dynamic, modern sector at the cutting edge of science & technology.”

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