Worldly goods

The global downturn has not lessened the demand for skilled engineers in certain regions and sectors

With the number of job opportunities in recession-hit Britain decreasing, engineers are increasingly looking further afield for employment.

The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics suggested that 207,000 Britons — one every three minutes — left in 2006.

Meanwhile, according to researchers compiling a study for the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2008, there are now 3.247 million British-born people living abroad, of whom more than 1.1 million are highly skilled university graduates. On top of this, the OECD found that 28.5 per cent of these graduates were scientists or engineers.

Although the downturn is increasingly spreading worldwide, demand for engineering staff is still high, depending on the preferred sector and destination. Indeed, in late 2008 both Australia and Canada’s Alberta province launched drives targeting engineers as potential immigrants.

According to Murray Sigler, managing director of the Alberta UK office at the High Commission of Canada, Alberta is suffering less than many other locations during the global downturn. Opportunities currently exist for staff in civil, municipal and structural, geological and geo-technical engineering. There are also openings in mechanical, electrical and process engineering for hydrocarbon resource development and upgrading, transportation and environmental engineering and permafrost and cold weather engineering. ‘Ongoing investment in energy is increasing the demand, not only for oil and gas engineers, but for all engineering disciplines to support the wide-ranging infrastructure developments going on,’ he said. ‘There are job vacancies in Alberta for engineers from all disciplines and market sectors.’

For those who have decided to make the move abroad, often one of the most time-consuming and stressful parts of the emigration process can be the paperwork required. The Immigration Group was established to take care of this, and can offer an end-to-end service to engineering professionals from a free assessment of their skills and eligibility to obtaining permanent residency in their country of choice. ‘The most popular places for applications are Australia, then Canada and New Zealand, although the US is becoming more popular,’ said Andrew Gilmour, marketing manager. ‘The process is very fiddly and professionals may not have the time. An agent can take the hassle out of this, save them time, and has knowledge of the sort of aspects that are not on the official application websites, particularly if there are circumstances such as a large number of family members accompanying them.’

Of the less traditional destinations, while the former success story of Dubai is now falling on harder times, other Middle Eastern regions are still thriving. ‘In Saudi Arabia the building of infrastructure is still going strong,’ said Paul Cook, senior consultant at London-based Thomas Telford Recruitment. The agency handles vacancies for chemical, construction and civil engineers worldwide. ‘There is also some infrastructure strengthening in North Africa, while the US is gearing up for new public works programmes led by the Obama administration. Most work is, however, led by the public sector. Water programmes and power station work exists, as do rail-based opportunities. The commercial sector, as well as the defence industry are reducing recruitment, while even the oil and gas industry is slowing,’ he added. However, Cook said that projects such as the plans for a possible European Union-wide SmartGrid, a power transmission network that will take power from numerous sources, including renewables, and distribute it across a wide area according to demand, were worth watching as a possible source of engineering jobs within the EU.

Although the number of vacancies may not be as plentiful as in previous years, for those engineers willing to look abroad it seems there are still numerous opportunities to suit all skills and expectations, both now and shortly to come.

Case study – Rocky Mountain high

Andy Hughes is a senior water resources engineer working for Klohn Crippen Berger Ltd in Calgary. He has lived in Alberta for 13 months.

‘We emigrated for a number of reasons,’ he said. ‘Mainly both my wife and I were concerned about the opportunities available to our young children while they grew up in the UK. We felt that it was time for a change.

‘Canada was a preference for us due to its reasonably close proximity to the UK compared to say Australia or New Zealand. This made it easier for my family and I to get back to the UK and also better for those family and friends who wanted to come and visit us. Also, although I was reasonably happy with my job in the UK, I also wanted to gain experience working overseas.’

As well as the sheer open space that characterises the region, he said he was also surprised by the career and recreational opportunities available to those living there. ‘As I understand, Alberta is three times the geographic area of the UK, with a population of slightly more than three million — the UK has more than 60 million people,’ added Hughes. ‘That says it all really. As a family, we have been more active in the past year than we were in the UK. Activities for children and adults are in abundance, and are reasonably priced when you have to pay for them. Having the Rocky Mountains on the doorstep is also a massive bonus — you don’t have to ski to appreciate them. We have visited the Rockies at least once a month in our first year and every time we are amazed by what we see. Now I understand why Albertans say “awesome” a lot!’

A lower average cost of living and lower property prices are also advantages. ‘You get more house for your money — either if you are buying or, in our case, renting. The layout of a majority of the communities is far more family friendly with schools, shops, playing fields, playgrounds all within walking distance, and I have found people to be more laid back here and less “on edge” compared to the UK. Although Calgary is a busy city, traffic congestion is no way near as bad as cities in the UK. You can enjoy city life and all the amenities it provides, but after a short drive you can be out in the countryside away from it all,’ he said.

Despite the laid-back attitude of its people, there is still the opportunity to work hard. ‘It’s busy here due to the massive amount of construction, but stress levels are considerably lower for me compared to my last job in the UK,’ said Hughes. ‘My working hours are less, so I am able to enjoy my evenings and weekends with the family far more. I also feel the engineering profession commands more respect over here than in the UK.’

Hughes has the following advice for those contemplating a similar move: ‘Research, research, research — then follow that up with a visit. Take advantage of the active recruitment drives that Albertan Consulting Engineers are doing in the UK; having the support of a company really makes the whole moving process a lot easier. Don’t have unrealistic expectations either. There are plenty of people who pack their bags and head back to the UK as soon as something “challenging” happens — that’s why research is so important. If you do the research and have realistic expectations then you are far more likely to succeed and settle into your new life.’