Bridging the Gap: How SOCOTEC is helping to develop the next generation of ground engineers

As part of an ongoing bid to invest in the future of the ground engineering industry, SOCOTEC is an Industrial Bursary Sponsor, enhancing the employability of the next generation of Engineering, Geotechnics and Geology students at the University of Portsmouth.

As part of an ongoing bid to invest in the future of the ground engineering industry, SOCOTEC is an Industrial Bursary Sponsor, enhancing the employability of the next generation of Engineering, Geotechnics and Geology students at the University of Portsmouth. 

Despite the fact that young people today are increasingly likely to attend university compared to previous generations, the declining intake of students opting for degrees in Geosciences has had a knock-on effect in the number of highly skilled graduates available for recruitment within this sector. This crisis is currently highlighted by the number of students taking A Level Geology. In the early 1980s, 4,000 students were taking the subject which was offered by several exam boards. This has fallen to only 1,525 entrants for 2018, with only two exam boards offering the subject.[1]

To help counteract this potential recruitment crisis, University of Portsmouth offers an Industrial Bursary Scheme in partnership with SOCOTEC to identify talented Engineering Geology and Geotechnics students and provide them with guaranteed industry placements, boosting their employability at the end of their degree.

Industrial Bursary Scheme – at a glance

Students who have applied for the Engineering Geology and Geotechnics course at Portsmouth University are eligible for the Industrial Bursary Scheme. SOCOTEC sits on the Bursary Management Committee (BMC) to decide which candidates to accept onto the Scheme, before determining which of these bursary students are to be placed with the organisation for their placements. On the condition that they obtain the requisite A Level grades for their chosen course, in addition to meeting various other requirements, they will be accepted for the bursary for the full three years of undergraduate study.

The Industrial Bursary Scheme comprises an eight-week summer placement during the interim period between a students’ first and second year, alongside a 44-week industry placement between the second and third years of study. SOCOTEC joins a host of industrial partners that have a strong working rapport with the University, including Atkins, BAM Ritchies, Fugro, Geotechnical & Environmental Associates, The Geological Society, Keller UK, Peter Brett Associates, Soils Limited, Wardell Armstrong LLP, Southern Testing, Keltbray and SRK Consulting.

When selected to join SOCOTEC on the Bursary Scheme, students are mentored for the duration of their placements at the organisation’s Wokingham, Deeside or Southam sites, and they will also spend a number of weeks in the geotechnical and environmental laboratories in Doncaster and Burton upon Trent. They will shadow various individuals in their day-to-day roles, including a project manager, site agent, quantity surveyor, principal engineer and estimator, learning such skills as soil logging, consultancy work, site supervision and numerical modelling.

Unlocking potential

The Industrial Bursary Scheme helps to ensure that the University of Portsmouth and its industrial partners are producing a high calibre of Engineering Geology and Geotechnics graduates, with the two organisations working together to emphasise the importance of practical experience in addition to theoretical-based learning. SOCOTEC has some input in determining the type of content delivered across each of these qualifications, with members of the Ground Investigation division sitting on the advisory panels for the University’s Engineering Geology and Geotechnics and course.

During the placements, SOCOTEC’s Ground Investigation team liaises directly with lecturers from the University to ensure that students from each of these courses are meeting a strict set of ‘experience’ criteria throughout. All of the expertise and practical skills acquired from their time on placement will then be transferred into their final year of study, where students will apply the historic data or information from an ongoing field project as the basis for their thesis.

Raising awareness

As many schools and colleges do not have the capacity to implement geological, geoscience and engineering-based modules as part of GCSE/A Level qualifications, huge shortages in the number of Engineering, Geotechnics and Geology graduates are forecasted to continue well into the next decade. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that universities and organisations promote these qualifications as early into students’ academic careers as possible.

In order to gauge student interest in pursuing a geological or engineering-based degree and career, it is vital that more organisations provide A Level students with the opportunity to participate in work experience programmes to give them a direct insight into what a job within these sectors is all about. Comprising a roughly 35-hour week, an A Level work experience programme would see students undertaking a fully chaperoned site visit, shadowing an engineer/geologist, project manager and principal engineer, and gaining experience in data presentation. While organising work experience placements may raise initial concerns regarding cost, resources and time management for a business, it is highly recommended that organisations in these sectors take immediate action, as this could help to reverse the engineering and geological recruitment crisis that we are potentially facing.

To further bridge the widening skills gap faced by these sectors, SOCOTEC recently organised a Soil & Rock Description (SARD) course, which was hosted at the University. This provided all second year students with the mandatory logging tuition required prior to undertaking an industry work placement, regardless of whether or not they were taking part in the scheme. SOCOTEC also recently participated in a teachers CPD event held at the University of Portsmouth, where employees spoke with teaching staff from across the country about the various routes that students could take if they opted for an Engineering Geology and Geotechnics or degree. The ultimate aim of this event was to enlighten teachers running A-Level Geology courses of the range of opportunities exist in the Engineering Geology sector and ideally sparking their students interest into pursuing the subject at degree level.

Members of SOCOTEC’s Ground Investigation team regularly attend the annual careers fair at the University of Portsmouth to advertise vacant graduate roles across the organisation and underline the benefits of a career within the ground sector. Serving as an invaluable networking opportunity for students and colleagues alike, this event has been responsible for the recruitment of a number of Portsmouth graduates. Alongside this, the organisation’s Ground Investigation and SOCOTEC Monitoring offices offer work experience placements for pre-GCSE and A Level students that are interested in pursuing a career in the geotechnical industry, providing them with a taster session which should ideally encourage them into taking up the subject at A Level and University.

Guaranteed success

Delivering an excellent work ethic, newfound industry knowledge, a years’ worth of experience and a high standard of technical and site-based skills, the scheme enables bursary students to thrive within an increasingly competitive graduate jobs market. In fact, recent research has revealed that Portsmouth graduates that participate in the Industrial Bursary Scheme have a greater than 95% success in entering employment within their first year of graduating. SOCOTEC recently employed their first graduate, who undertook their summer and 44-week placement with the organisation during their degree. What’s more, the organisation has sponsored five bursary scheme students during their four-year sandwich course, while six undergraduate and Masters students have received a combination of summer and year-long placements.

Sarah Valentine, UK senior operations manager for Ground Investigation, SOCOTEC UK, said: “SOCOTEC is proud to be one of a number of organisations dedicated to investing in the ground engineering industry by developing the next generation of engineering, geology and geotechnics graduates. With 13 Portsmouth alumni currently working across the Ground Investigation Division, we will continue to establish a strong working rapport with the University though our Industrial Bursary Scheme and look forward to welcoming young new talent into the business.”

For more information on SOCOTEC’s Ground Investigation team and the services they provide, click here.

References

[1] Geoscientist magazine, Vol 29, No. 08, September 2019

2https://www.worldexpertise.com/Declining_Interest_in_Engineering_Studies_at_a_Time_of_Increased_Business_Needs.htm

3 https://wellcome.ac.uk/sites/default/files/science-education-tracker-report-feb17.pdf