Sector spotlight: engineering and built environment

Jodie Elwis

Category: Student support services

5 June 2020

Many industries have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, including those in the engineering and built environment sector. What's the outlook for students and graduates who are hoping to start a career in this area?

Key market updates since last post

  • Some modest signs of job posting recovery since mid-April driven by health and social care vacancies (Institute of Fiscal Studies), which need particular training and qualifications that most graduates do not have. This improvement is also shown to be in more affluent areas.
  • Number of new vacancies in other occupations have only slightly improved since April in comparison to 2019 figures, but vacancies on average are now showing a small week by week increase.
  • PWC has done some scenario analysis in which they have concluded which sectors they believe will be least negatively impacted (finance and insurance, health and social care, IT and telecoms, utilities and public administration and defence.
  • Many businesses say they can get operations up and running again, either partially or fully, quickly once restrictions ease (British Chambers of Commerce, Week 8).

Summary of this week’s spotlight

  • Engineering and built environment roles that are usually in high demand now have very few opportunities, likely due to the high percentage of businesses that have had to furlough staff.
  • Competition for these roles will be a lot tougher and students will need to be even more prepared for being able to show they stand out from the rest.
  • Built environment graduate recruitment is set to see the biggest decline in comparison to other sectors, with a larger decline seen for student placements in this sector as well as in the energy, engineering and industry sector.
  • At ARU, we are staying in close contact with employers and looking at new and innovative ways to connect employers and students.
  • Update: on 22 June, the Government announced new measures to help boost the construction industry; these include planning permissions extensions, flexible working, faster planning appeal process, and large loan possibilities.

Sector spotlight: engineering and built environment

Industries within these sectors have been named in recent weeks as being some of the most impacted in way of staff on furlough. Therefore we should expect that recruitment activities will be greatly affected by this in the medium to long term, as getting furloughed staff back to work will be the priority. Figures for businesses that have or planned to furlough staff stood at 81% in construction and 82% in manufacturing as reported by IFF Research.

The immediate impact of COVID-19 on this sector is reported to have been the disruption to supply chains in the continuation and completion of projects, rather than concerns of being able to work safely (The Engineer).

After the first initial week of lockdown, Deloitte predicted that the long-term impact of COVID-19 would be that Government deficits and the heightened levels of unemployment and low GDP would lead to a decrease in demand for construction companies. This will most likely result in companies having to reconsider their current staffing structures, which will probably have a negative impact on recruitment of new staff.

As with other sectors, unemployment is likely to hit non-graduates the hardest (Prospects). Some graduate-level jobs in this sector are office-based and are possible to carry out from home, but these jobs are directly impacted by the number of projects or work happening on site.

Research shows that many employers still do not fully know their plans for the next year, so to give an accurate picture of recruitment is difficult. The numbers reflected in job and placement postings can give an idea of intent to recruit but as we are still in a time of uncertainty, it could be possible that the recruitment process could stop partway through. However, this should not deter students and graduates from applying.

The webinar Down but not out! covered the response from student employers to a survey by ISE and AGCAS as to their change in plans for recruitment (where it is known). Even though it supports the predictions that graduates will not be as heavily impacted as others, built environment does show the biggest expectation for change in recruitment of graduates, and the data is even bleaker for placement students in the same sector and in Energy, Engineering and Industry in comparison to other sectors.

You can watch the Down but not out! webinar on YouTube.

ARU on-the-ground experience

The experience in our Employability Service resonates with the data. Contact with employers in this sector shows that many staff have been furloughed and most of the firms that we engage with for placements have had to put these on hold for now. We are also aware of placement opportunities that have been rescinded due to COVID-19 within this sector.

Opportunities are not non-existent though, and we have had a few opportunities in or near our region that advisers have been able to promote to students. However, where these subject areas are usually high in demand, the amount of opportunities are far less and competition for these roles will be high. An example of a Junior Civil Engineer post in Sidcup shows 124 applications for review by the employer (

Not all contact has been negative though. We've have heard from an employer n this sector who has been innovative and created a work from home opportunity that we have been able to promote. The hope will be to see more of these in the weeks to come.

In future posts we will look at other sectors and how this is likely to affect those that study with us at ARU, identifying both the opportunities and the challenges we look to overcome.

Despite the difficulties that COVID-19 has presented, there is a lot of positive and exciting opportunities to look forward to as we work with employers for their benefit as well as students. Data indicates that many businesses will be able to return to operations quickly on the ease of lockdown restrictions. The Employability Service at ARU is staying in contact with employers to offer support where possible, and will be well-equipped when opportunities begin to rise again.

Please make use of the comments section to continue discussions, or tell us about analysis you would like to see in future blog posts.


The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.