Article Business Practice

Work permits for Non-UK and EU Ground Engineers

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Although there are indications that the supply of UK and EU graduate engineers is increasing, there are still sufficient hard to fill vacancies to indicate a continuing shortage of ground engineers. Although immigration currently has a high press and political profile, it is worth noting that where the Home Office acknowledges that a skill shortage exists, certain work permits can still be fast tracked – despite the tightening of visa rules for migrants from outside Europe.

Recruitment from outside Europe requires the employer to hold a sponsorship licence (see Once this has been obtained, the visa application procedure requires the employer to fulfil the requirements of Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) – i.e. to demonstrate that it is not possible to fill the post from within the UK or EU. This can be time consuming and risks the possibility that the desired applicant finds alternative employment elsewhere before the work permit is received.

The good news, however, is that Ground Engineers are on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL). This does not affect the requirement for employers of migrant labour to be licensed, but once this hurdle has been overcome (and the necessary administrative and monitoring structures have been put in place) – the RLMT is not necessary and the issue of a visa should be relatively straightforward and reasonably quick.

A number of things to be aware of:

  • Your HR Department may not be aware that Ground Engineers are on the SOL.  (Civil Engineers were removed from the list some years ago). See Table 1.

    Table of data

    Table 1

  • The visa issuing people do not understand ground engineering. To minimise problems, avoid the temptation to use your company’s job title.  Stick to the generic occupations listed in the SOL. These are (April 2014)
  • A minimum salary applies:  for new entrants this is £19,700 (SOC code 2142);   £20,000 (SOC code 2113); and £20,200 (SOC code 2121).  For experienced people it is £24,600 (Soc Code 2142); £27,000 (SOC Code 2113); and £28,700 (SOC code 2121).  (Higher thresholds may apply if the holder is accompanied by his/her family).
  • The fees for applications via the SOL route are slightly lower than normal Tier 2 application rates.
  • Since 2011 there has been a limit of 20,700 work permits issued each year under the Tier2 regulations.  Applications for job titles on the SOL have priority.
  • For very experienced, very specialist roles who don’t easily fit into the above job titles – it may be possible to get a work permit under the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent rules. These require a letter of personal recommendation from someone in the UK who is familiar with the  applicant’s work and his/her contribution to the field, and qualified to assess his/her claim to be a world leader or a potential world leader in the field. Applications will be assessed by the Royal Academy/Royal Academy of Engineers/The Royal Society.

Further information and forms can be found online – and contact numbers are readily available for guidance by UK Visas and Immigration staff.

The Ground Forum would be very interested in receiving feedback (positive and negative) from anyone obtaining visas for ground engineers – and advice that might be helpful to other applicants.

REMEMBER: Recruitment from outside the UK is not a substitute for developing UK talent.  The industry urgently needs more well qualified UK ground engineers.  Many employers are already reaping the rewards of closer liaison with universities and the early recruitment of undergraduate students and recent graduates who can benefit from work experience and specialist training in the ground engineering industry.

Article Business Practice Executive

Ground Engineering Talking point on RoGEP

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UK Register of Ground Engineering Professionals (UK RoGEP)

It is nearly a year since we launched UK RoGEP and things have moved on at quite a pace. UK RoGEP Register now has over 60 registrants and the number of applications is increasing. The uptake by ground engineers has been higher than we originally considered and we are anticipating a 50% increase in applications during the next year!

One of the key drivers from a client perspective was that ground engineering work was being carried out by people  working outside their area of expertise and qualifications. This unfortunately is still occurring on a regular basis as noted by AGS members. The AGS are about to publish a client’s guidance document which will provide advice and guidance for procuring ground engineering services with a particular emphasis on UK RoGEP and SiLC registrations.

With regards to UK industry recognition of UK RoGEP, various client organisations have been positive in the aims, objectives and needs for registration of ground engineers. The Welsh Government, UK Highways Agency and Network Rail are all fully and publically endorsing UK RoGEP registration. There is also evidence that some clients are now requiring ground engineering specialists and advisers to be involved in their projects, the Scottish Forestry Commission being one of them. The three levels of registrant are now also beginning to appear in guidance documents and client specifications. The recently published Site Investigation Steering Group specification document provides details of the roles that should be undertaken for the three levels of registrant.

The high number of applications for registration has led to, on a few occasions, a longer turn-around of application processing. We originally thought six weeks would provide sufficient time for the assessment and auditing process to be carried out; however there have been occasional “hiccups” which the UK RoGEP Panel have addressed.  We have apologised to candidates where delays have occurred and explained the reasons behind the delay.

These “hiccups” include those you might expect in a new organisation where “new ground is being broken” (excuse the unintended pun!). We have had to modify certain application forms to make the process easier for both applicants, sponsors and indeed for the assessors.

Other delays have occurred when the sponsor’s statements and the sponsorship forms have not followed the guidance provided. This has particularly been seen with regards to the personal statement, where one of the key factors used by the assessors are evidence of the six attributes (Innovation, Technical Solutions, Integration, Risk Management Sustainability and Management) which can be identified in carrying out projects, research and writing technical papers.

The other key matter is the sponsorship of candidates. The original members of the Panel approved the sponsorship of all applicants whom were personally known to them. As the number of registrants increased they in turn were able to sponsor further applicants whom they had known and worked with. With the success of UK RoGEP registration there were issues with some applicants who could not obtain registered sponsors.  We have therefore allowed particular non-registered ground engineers to become sponsors subject to the approval of the Panel.  However, this is a temporary arrangement that will be determined in the near future as going forward there should be sufficient sponsors who are registered.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is a requirement for admission to the Register and applicants are asked to provide details of both their CPD Plan and Record. Whilst it is expected that such documents would cover general professional discipline matters, registrants are additionally expected to plan and undertake occupational CPD specific to the Register. Furthermore, UK RoGEP Registrants are also bound by their own institution’s rules of professional conduct. UK RoGEP will be issuing further guidance notes concerning CPD in the near future.

For further information on UK RoGEP visit the or

Article Business Practice Executive

University Meets Industry

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Engineering Geology and Geotechnical Engineering MSc courses – what is the problem?

A recent meeting arranged by the AGS on behalf of The Ground Forum brought together academics and industry representatives in order to better understand the problems and pressures facing MSc courses and the impact that these will have on the ground engineering sector’s need for qualified and competent professionals.

There are currently 15 universities in the UK offering courses in subjects that would qualify as ground engineering.  Several courses have closed in the past few years – including courses in hydrogeology, even though experienced hydrogeologists are in short supply.

So what is the problem?

University Finance:  All courses are under pressure to diversify income, and Government support is now heavily biased  towards research and research degrees.  Most universities now have a strategy in place to improve research income and increase PhD recruitment.  MSc courses continue – but only if they are profitable.

Student Numbers:   To be self sustaining an MSc course needs 16 or more students.  In the past student numbers were limited by a shortage of students completing first degrees in civil engineering and geology.  This problem has been resolved to some extent in recent years but has been replaced by new difficulties:-

  • 4 year MEng and MSci Courses:  How likely is it that someone who has spent 4 years obtaining a Masters degree in civil engineering or geology will want to do a further year in order to qualify as an engineering geologist or geotechnical engineer?   Yet universities have confirmed that 4 year first degree courses do not contain sufficient ground engineering to make someone proficient in this area.
  • Increasing Fees:  The rise in undergraduate tuition fees is likely to have three effects relevant to this discussion:
    • decrease in undergraduate enrolment
    • increased levels of student debt
    • a corresponding rise in the cost of postgraduate course fees

      A survey by Birmingham University of students who enrolled for an MSc course but withdrew before it began (‘non-arrivals’) revealed that finance was a significant factor.  When Leeds University increased course fees to £5,000 this year, there was a 40% drop in enrolments.   MSc fees next year could rise to £12,000…..

  • Withdrawal of Grants:  NERC and EPSRC funding ended some time ago.  There are now almost no grants available for MSc ground engineering students – and course fees must be paid at the door!

The problem is compounded by the relatively poor pay for ground engineers and the lower status of engineers in the UK (compared to Europe and elsewhere).

Can Industry Help?
The message that went back to Universities from Industry was – not much at present.  Companies already sponsor students and prizes; provide research projects and facilities for MSc dissertations and PhD research; make visiting lecturers available; contribute to industry sponsored bursaries; provide work experience.  Some do more than others, and some would do more if Universities were more adept at making and fostering relationships with companies. But the realities of the economic situation at present make increasing financial support a non-starter.

A number of universities offer flexible courses (eg part time, or block release courses and even distance learning).  These are welcomed and there is scope to increase them and make them more suited to employers requirements.  Closer liaison between academia and industry could improve both the suitability of courses (place, time, structure) and the usefulness of the courses (subject matter and research).

Where to go from here?

One of the most positive results from the meeting was that academics were brought together and agreed to form their own alliance for future contact with the ground industry.  This alliance is expected to meet regularly with representatives from The Ground Forum Members (eg AGS, BDA, BGA, FPS, GeolSoc, PJA, and others) to explore innovative ways to ensure that courses continue, and that they meet the needs of employers.

The Ground Forum will also consider whether there are ways of fulfilling its skills needs other than an MSc.  This would not be with the intention of abandoning the MSc as a qualification, but to widen the diversity of options available through training, very possibly delivered by Universities, but leading to certificates and diplomas rather than a second degree.

The Ground Forum has lobbied for Government recognition of the importance of ground engineering and the need for ground engineers.  It will continue to do so via a meeting of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee at the end of February 2012, and via an article in Science in Parliament that will emphasise the contribution that ground engineering makes to the economy and to emphasise the need for Government Departments that make use of ground engineering skills (eg DEFRA, DEC, BIS, etc) to also fund training and to understand the relationship between margins and industries ability to support its own professional development needs.

During the meeting it was agreed that both parties are missing opportunities to support each other and develop more effective communication. Universities have a communication network that includes both past and present students.  Industry has recruitment needs –for permanent positions but also for short term and temporary posts which could be facilitated by the university network.  Students benefit from work placements and work experience – and the company that provides it has an opportunity to assess them and their capabilities for future employment.  Similarly, companies providing dissertation projects benefit from cost effective research, and the possibility of future employees. Expect to hear more of this in 2012 …..

Article Business Practice Executive

Engineering, Geology, Geotechnics

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University of Portsmouth’s Industrial Alliance in Engineering Geology & Geotechnics starts to show results

The University of Portsmouth is the only institution in the UK to offer an undergraduate degree in Engineering, Geology and Geotechnics. It has been running for over 40 years since its launch in 1967.

The overarching ethos of the degree is to prepare graduates with a good science background for a career in the ground engineering industry. Our students are focussed individuals who have identified this unique degree as a gateway to a satisfying professional career in the civil, mining or offshore sectors.

Up until 2008 the degree was a standard three year full time degree. However, in order to boost numbers and the calibre of students we decided a re-think was in order. In close collaboration with a number of major ground engineering companies we developed a sandwich version of our undergraduate degree with an associated Industrial Bursary Scheme. The scheme offers selected students a bursary of £1,750 per year plus a paid 8 week placement at the end of Level 1 and a paid 44 week placement at the end of Level 2.

The main objectives of this course restructuring are:

  1. To increase the pool of talented employable Engineering Geologists and Geotechnical Engineers in the UK
  2. To attract high quality students with good Science A-levels, Diploma or IB qualifications into the Profession of Engineering Geology and Geotechnical Engineering
  3. To secure a sustainable cohort of high quality students joining the B.Eng in Engineering Geology and Geotechnics (Sandwich) Degree pathway at the University of Portsmouth
  4. To forge strong links between the ground engineering industry and the University of Portsmouth

The sandwich degree and bursary scheme has had the desired effect – our second intake (2010-11) is up by 30% to 30 students, the majority with at least 2 science subjects or equivalent at A-level. The first intake of students onto the sandwich is at present seeking industrial placements for 2011-12.

We currently have seven companies actively involved in providing the bursary which is the main driver for recruitment. Therefore the key to the degree’s continued success and growth is support from Industry by either offering placements or bursaries. Our aim is to increase the number of bursaries on offer so we expand the course with high quality science based students who will feed into the UK ground engineering industry.

The foundation of our degree lies in the geological sciences which are built upon in Level 2 with Units taken in Soil Mechanics, Rock Mechanics, Hydrogeology, Ground Investigation, and Engineering Geology of the UK. In Level 3 these subjects are developed into Units in Rock Engineering, Geotechnical Engineering, Contaminated Land, and Landslides and Slope Stability. Underpinning the degree is an integrated field work program where key skills such as geological & geomorphological mapping, soil & rock description, and rock mass characterisation are developed. Transferable skills such as geotechnical report writing, air photo interpretation, use of geotechnical software packages, and GIS are also embedded into the curriculum.

If you would like to find out more about the degree course or the Industrial Bursary scheme, please contact the Programme Manager Nick Koor:, t. (023) 9284 8484. Details can also be found about the course and Bursary on our web site