SOCOTEC's Role in Supporting the Next Generation of Ground Engineers
With confidence growing in the ground engineering sector, Philip Ball, SOCOTEC’s group technical director and Portsmouth University alumnus, discusses how we’re helping to secure the industry’s future through support of Engineering Geology and Geotechnics undergraduates.
With confidence growing in the ground engineering sector, Philip Ball, SOCOTEC’s group technical director, and Portsmouth University alumnus, discusses how we’re helping to secure the industry’s future through support of Engineering Geology and Geotechnics undergraduates.
SOCOTEC is proud to be one of a selection of organisations committed to supporting Portsmouth University in developing the next generation of talented ground engineers. As an Industrial Bursary Sponsor, we offer the university's most promising Engineering Geology and Geotechnics students a valuable insight into the industry through the provision of guaranteed industry placements and contact with experienced geotechnical professionals.
Typically, the emerging graduates have a greater than 95% success rate in entering employment within their graduation year, a fantastic result. This success can undoubtedly be attributed to the combination of a well-managed course and its strong industry links.
There is no question that the 44 week industry placement experience is key to enhancing the quality and preparedness of the graduates finishing at Portsmouth. From mining, to mud logging and consultancy, to numerical modelling, the skills that are learnt through both the academic teaching and the practical experience gained on placement makes these students extremely employable. With reports that many students graduate today with a lack of tangible experience, the package that we offer is invaluable to both the students and potential future employers alike.
This year’s ‘freshers’
This month, I took some time out to interview a selection of the new intake of students to the course, something which I always look forward to. The group had all applied for the opportunity to be awarded a bursary by SOCOTEC, and I took great pleasure in reviewing their interesting array of submissions. These first year students interviewed well, and showed a huge amount of promise in different ways. I'm proud, that as an Industrial Bursary Sponsor, SOCOTEC - formerly ESG - can become an integral part of these students university experience and assist in developing a promising new generation of ground engineers.
My visit to Portsmouth University had the additional benefit of allowing me to catch up with the student's predecessors already involved with us. As an Industrial Bursary Sponsor, I feel that every opportunity should be taken to maximise the time we engage with students already working with us. It was great to hear how they enjoyed participating in our placements, as well as how it has contributed to their development.
The next generation
Historically, the Engineering Geology and Geotechnics course has been very well subscribed with relatively high annual intakes, however this year the number of first year students is much lower. Is this simply a 'blip', or are students moving away from science based subjects? Whatever the cause, it's concerning.
The principle lecturer of the Engineering Geology and Geotechnics course, Nick Koor, has been instrumental in reviving the degree over the last decade to provide an essential practical element, rather than purely theory. In addition to encouraging organisations to become involved as Industrial Bursary Sponsors, Nick is also inspiring alumni, including myself, to visit local schools and colleges to promote earth sciences, with a particular emphasis on geology. His recruitment drive aims to raise awareness of the importance of engineering degrees and the resulting careers which can help shape the world. This complements the Government's initiative to encourage students to take triple science at GCSE level and onto A-level, which will hopefully translate into more students opting for a science-based degree.
Although there is widespread optimism within the ground engineering sector over its future, there is one issue that remains a huge concern to organisations; according to a Ground Engineering survey, 62% of respondents stated that a skills shortage is the number one issue facing the industry, with 57% reporting an issue recruiting within the past 12 months. Moreover, the ICE has forecast huge shortages in engineering graduates over the next decade. Further evidence of this can be seen in the Home Office's shortage occupation list, which the ground engineering sector has featured on over the last ten years. This simplifies the red tape of employing from overseas, therefore allowing organisations to employ non-EU citizens with considerable ease.
In the interests of the future of geotechnical engineering, we cannot afford to let any decline in university entrant numbers occur. Recruiters are finding many graduates to be underqualified and so our contribution towards rectifying this through industry experience will help both the students and the industry as a whole. I'm proud of the work of Portsmouth University, SOCOTEC and other sponsors in unlocking a generation of potential, and I look forward to our continued success.