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The impact of the 'new normal' on young engineers' careers

09 September 2020

President's Future Leader Tim Hou looks at the impact of the Covid pandemic on young civil engineers just starting their careers in the industry.

The impact of the 'new normal' on young engineers' careers
What is the impact of the pandemic on engineers' careers

Throughout this year, there have been countless articles addressing the impacts of the pandemic on the industry, however it is those who are still in their early careers who are often forgotten about. For many early career professionals this has been, and still is, a very worrying and confusing time and there are several steps that the industry needs to address to safeguard its future. As we move into the 'new normal', it is critical that companies renew their commitments to their less experienced engineers and understand the impacts of a changing industry on their talent pipeline.

The importance of mentoring

With many younger engineers worried about their prospects and development, mentoring has become more important than ever.

Without face time in the office, mentors need to be creative to maintain regular, effective interactions both at a personal and professional level. Not only is this a way to check in on the wellbeing of their mentees, it can also instil confidence and reassurance. There have been notable examples of mentors going above and beyond their usual commitments throughout the pandemic, which will undoubtedly pay off in the future., These examples should be shared and learned from. We also can’t afford to stop developing less experienced engineers through training; this will allow us to not only upskill the workforce, but to improve our resilience as we start to return to normal.

Civil engineers must embrace digital technology
Civil engineers must embrace digital technology

Embracing digital technology

The pandemic has led to a complete change in most people’s day-to-day routine, and a change in the skills required of civil engineers. We are rapidly embracing digital innovation as well as new ways of communicating and working as teams. Many young engineers are digital natives, a value that could be capitalised on by the industry. Additionally, could the current crisis also be an opportunity for personal growth? Many are now reclaiming the time they commute to the office, offering an opportunity to introduce a much healthier work-life balance. This has allowed many to revaluate their lives and really focus on those areas that they want to develop or have been neglecting. Through this shared experience of a pandemic, we can become more connected and united together, encouraging collaboration and improving our working relationships.

Encouraging routes into engineering

We must not forget that schools are also going to be affected - a declining engagement with industry could lead to a fall in the number of students considering engineering - further magnifying a challenge that we have been trying to address for a long while. We must realise and encourage the different routes into civil engineering, with degrees, apprenticeships and now T-levels. We must also be aware of the potential impact that the pandemic may have on our civil engineering students, who may be struggling to gain valuable experience through work placements or even find full time employment after they graduate. As we progress, we all have a duty to continue our STEM engagement as best we can, as it is now more important than ever. It will also ensure that we are keeping civil engineering as inclusive as possible, continuing our work encouraging underrepresented groups to consider it as a career path.

On that subject, we are starting to see that the pandemic is disproportionately impacting these under-represented groups, including women, people from minority ethnic backgrounds and those who are financially disadvantaged ; we need to be doing everything we can to promote a diverse and inclusive industry to ensure that the positive work is not undone. A diverse workforce has time and time again been proven to be increase productivity for businesses, however, more must be done if we want to avoid unravelling the work put in to get us here. On a positive note, with virtual working the industry is more accessible than ever before - however the industry needs to adapt to benefit from this new talent pool.

The benefit of apprenticeships

In Rishi Sunak’s July update, he reaffirmed the Government’s pledge to apprenticeships, offering further incentives to employers. Over the last few years, apprenticeships have become much more enticing to those leaving school and we are starting to see the benefits that apprentices can provide if you give them the support and experience they need. Companies need to better demonstrate their commitment to apprenticeships and understand the critical role that they will play in our recovery.

While it may appear doom and gloom, the outlook is bright for civil engineers. The Government has reiterated the need to 'build, build, build'and many companies are now back to full strength. While there may be some who are inevitably experiencing job losses and redundancies, there is a strong support network with schemes such as the Construction Talent Retention scheme to help individuals quickly get back into civil engineering.

With the world and the industry starting to recover from Covid-19, safeguarding our future by securing our flow of talent at all levels must be an absolute priority. By identifying these issues early on, we can build in resilience and learn key skills and attitudes to take forward into the future.

  • Tim Hou , chartered civil engineer at Mott MacDonald