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Civil Engineer blog

How can CEOs win the competition for talent?

02 August 2018

Credible plans to address the shortage of civil engineers often seem to be focused on long-term sustained actions that won’t deliver now but several years in the future. Possibly. New research sponsored by ICE suggests CEOs and the sector are missing a trick that can be actioned now.

How can CEOs win the competition for talent?

All of us, whatever our position or role within the infrastructure sector, are aware of the critical need for more civil engineers, now and in the future.

A large number and wide variety of long-term actions and projects are underway to change this. All are highly valuable and very much needed. We are proud to encourage and celebrate such projects.

However, new research suggests that CEOs and the infrastructure sector are missing an actionable trick that could start delivering real benefits in the competition for talent right now. So what’s the research and what does it show?

ICE sustainability survey

In the biggest survey of its type that ICE has conducted, UK based members were asked questions about sustainability. CEO’s and senior staff may sigh heavily at this point. ‘Sustainability is not my bag, not a commercial priority, not a technical priority, all a load of greenwash.’

We sympathise. But bear with us, this new data is particularly important for CEOs and senior staff. The engineers surveyed were at different stages of their careers, with both some common themes and differences between millennials and non-millennials.

Overall, the vast majority (87%) of engineers agreed that their projects should be delivering sustainable development goals. Just 34% of respondents felt that their firm had suitable measurement methods for projects, with millennials twice as likely than non-millennials to say that their firm’s scheme was not fit for purpose (36% vs 16%).

Consistent with this challenge, millennials were 15-20% more demanding of the overall need to drive improved measurement of SDG impacts on projects

Take home message: for millennials, sustainability is a core part of professional aspirations, and they want to see change - fast, relevant, measurable – and they want to be part of the discussion.

Competing as a buyer in a seller’s market So what, you may think. But given that there’s a major shortage of engineering talent, it’s a sellers’ market for talent, not a buyers’ one.

Engineers have the ability to choose the firms that best meet their professional aspirations, and avoid those that don’t. Employers don’t get a great deal of choice. Given the size of the shortage – 60,000 new engineers needed every year - competing for talent is a strategic priority for all engineering firms. As a strategic responsibility, it falls to CEOs and senior staff to address successfully.

Since working on projects that explicitly and actively deliver sustainability is a priority for the new generation of talent, existing senior talent needs to ensure that their projects and firms are explicitly and actively providing such projects. Lots of them.

Recognising this issue enables CEOs to see sustainability in a new light: not as tired or vague waffle but as a realistic source of competitive advantage in the competition for talent.

This is a key aspect that frequently gets overlooked in strategic discussions about sustainability.

Global issues, global opportunities and global networks

So how can this be done? Sustainability is a global matter, includes lots of issues and can be a very vague term remote from the shovel-ready focus of day-to-day engineering projects.

Two things will be particularly helpful in enabling CEOs and senior staff to exploit this competitive opportunity to recruit and retain talent.

Firstly, a greater understanding of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how they can be applied to infrastructure projects.

Covering 17 different aspects of society, such as clean water and sanitation (SDG6), energy (SDG7), industry innovation and infrastructure (SDG9), sustainable cities and communities (SDG11) and life below water (SDG14), the SDGs set out development targets to be achieved by all nations by 2030.

These can be used within projects both within the UK and elsewhere to set design objectives and within firms to set strategic objectives.

Secondly, learning about thought-provoking example projects and firms that are already delivering sustainability, and sharing experiences with their peers from around the world.

The best place to do both will be at the Global Engineering Congress jointly sponsored by ICE and WFEO.

The event which takes place in October, will bring together over 2,000 built environment professionals with representation from the World Bank, the United Nations, UNESCO, national and international policy makers, asset owners and experts from around the world to provide an international forum to address global challenges.

Using the collective expertise of senior speakers and delegates, the event will create a roadmap that will detail actions to push progress against the UN’s SDGs. Secure your place at:

Paul Mansell, has 30 years’ experience in industry as a senior advisor on HS2, Post-Grenfell Buildings Safety Programme and more across nuclear, telco, transport and other sectors.

He is currently doing a PhD part-time at LSBU/UCL, aimed at understanding engineers’ interest/value in measuring impact against sustainable development goals.