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The Civils and Infrastructure Employment Market Outlook

  • by: Steve Hubbard
  • On: 26, Aug 2021
5 min read

The Engineering and Infrastructure market began the decade on a positive note – this was until COVID-19 hit. 

To say it has been a challenging start is an understatement. The resulting recession immediately wiped out years of employment gains while the industry experienced a spike in material costs that further increased margin pressures and delayed or cancelled projects. Layoffs and furloughs were unprecedented in a sector that has long been considered somewhat resistant to recession. 

Despite the circumstances, VHR’s specialists see plenty of positive signs as the vaccination drive gathers steam and coronavirus cases decline. For example, the global Civil Engineering industry, currently at a value of $7.74 trillion, is expected to grow at a rate of 5.7% between 2021 to 2028. Paired with a myriad of other positive trends in technical recruitment and Construction Engineering, there is enough reason to be optimistic as we return to normalcy.


Experts believe there is an incoming surge 


70% of Engineering and construction leaders surveyed in the 2021 industry outlook by Deloitte believe that new infrastructure projects can kickstart the economy. This will create a requirement for many engineering jobs, especially entry-level opportunities, to get production back and running.

 When these pent-up projects are rescheduled, contractors expect a massive surge in recruitment for engineers and other workers. It’s a matter of when not if.

An increased focus on automation


There is a growing realisation that AI will define this decade. The fact that business adoption of AI increased 270% in just four years confirms this realisation. 

 As world economies stabilise and production gradually eases back to pre-pandemic levels, so will demand for experienced engineers who are well-versed in AI operations. With companies and contractors upgrade their systems for modernised AI-involved equipment that will require new working procedures, we can expect increased demand in control engineering positions. 


A shift in candidate requirements 

The sudden layoffs and disruptions in industries like civil engineering have seen engineers favour stability and benefits rather than salary. Job security is now the topmost priority and companies that can demonstrate stability are best positioned to attract the best candidates. Companies – and managers – must be able to show an effective plan and outlook to convince interested professionals and dissuade any uncertainty in moving roles. 

A Reed survey in 2020 covering candidate requirements found that professionals were now attracted to performance-based bonuses, higher pensions, and working flexibility. Businesses that offer a combination of the above factors will find it easier to attract the crème de la crème.


The importance of client-facing experience 

Forbes survey found that 84% of organizations that prioritised the customer/client experience saw an increase in customer satisfaction and profits, as well as more engaged employees.

Engineers with client experience, who are committed to exceptional service, collaboration, and transparency will continue to be in high demand in the coming years.

Another positive benefit is that engineering organisations are increasingly focused on hiring and then nurturing fresh engineers. Not only will this open more entry-level opportunities, but it will also create a generation of engineers who are well-versed in client-facing roles and can follow through with promises. 


Flexible and responsible project managers

The pandemic has reminded us of the need to always be prepared for unexpected situations and to be flexible to these disruptions. Project managers should be able to learn, utilise modern technology, experiment, and be ready to adapt. Tight deadlines and smaller budgets will be the case going forward and project managers must be ready to manage projects under tougher constraints. 


 Adaption of new technology 

With many aspects of the job going virtual, visualisation channels like renderings, animations, and 3D modelling are essential in helping stakeholders understand and experience your project before it is physically created by hand. More importantly, providing better understandings of the workings of your project can increase buy-ins and enable better, more informed decisions at the most crucial stages.

 Renewed focus on sustainability

Today, protecting the environment and factoring in green strategies are key priorities for any engineering project, be it a downtown building or an airplane. 

Infrastructure that can continue functioning through climate changes, remain resilient to outside pressures, and benefit the external environment are essential. Moreover, directors, managers, and engineers who can showcase sustainable initiatives are likely to achieve higher buy-ins from stakeholders, the government, and the public. One of many such innovative projects includes green alleys, designed to filter rainwater of pollutants before it is directed to rivers and other water bodies.

The role of leadership here falls on engineers as they're expected to provide solutions to challenges, including pollution and damage to the ecosystem. By making efforts to include sustainable practices, engineers can become catalysts of change.

Emerging from the pandemic, professionals will face a new landscape in the engineering and construction industry. It’s not all negative. While cost and margin worries will remain, the use of newer technologies, a better understanding of work flexibility, and increased focus on stability promise a much better outlook for everyone. Engineering and construction firms that learn from the pandemic's lessons, embrace digital technology, and prepare for the future will be better prepared going forward.

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Skills shortages, sustainability, and more – discover the Biggest Civil Engineering & Infrastructure Trends for 2021

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