Debate | How homework affects young engineers

When the government advised people to work from home to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in the spring of 2020, companies rushed to improve their IT infrastructure and provide laptops for staff. The goal was to continue to operate as efficiently as possible through remote work.

But it soon became apparent that not all problems could be solved with technology, with employees struggling to walk away.
of the office environment in different ways.

The impact on those in the early stages of their careers has been immense, with professional development and mental health being negatively affected. RCE recently hosted a roundtable with the sponsors of the NCE Graduates and Apprenticeship Awards to discuss the challenges early career staff have faced and explore how well they will stay, as flexible working becomes the norm .

At the onset of the pandemic, the change in work environment associated with job insecurity and change in lifestyle was detrimental to the well-being of some civil engineers.

Some people really need to have a conversation with someone to understand something, rather than receiving information.

ICE Benevolent Fund chief executive Kris Barnett said there had been a 22% year-over-year increase in requests to the fund for psychological support in 2020, especially for the anxiety, stress and depression. She says the rate of increase was highest among young AIC members.

Barnett gives an example of direct feedback the Benevolent Fund team has received: “I missed the office vibe. I feel isolated and out of the loop, and ruminate on and internalize every little problem. “

Stantec senior vice president and chief strategy officer David Smith said many young graduates and apprentices he spoke to felt isolated at the start of the pandemic, especially those who had recently moved to a new location for work.

I think flexible working is good, but i don’t think it’s a panacea. People need to be together

“They didn’t have that social connectivity, either with work or through their family life. […] many of them ended up going home [to their parent’s house],” he says.

Working from home has changed the way coworkers communicate with each other, with quick, informal conversations becoming less frequent. Alistair Awcock, Director of Heathrow’s Infrastructure and Projects Management Office, explains that new hires often have a hard time scheduling an online meeting with senior members of their team and as a result they do not receive the the confidence and support they need.

“I can’t imagine how stressful it is,” he says. “I guess there are times when they just sit there for four or five hours, only needing a two-second conversation to get them to finish some work.”

Awcock adds that working from home has also had an impact on learning. “The way some people learn is completely different […] some really need to have a conversation with someone to understand something, rather than receiving information via email or on a Teams call, ”he explains.

Amey Consulting Professional Excellence Manager Frazer Wild adds that working from home also suppresses the ability of early career staff to learn by absorbing information from the office environment.

Positive results

With flexible and hybrid work becoming the norm, employers have launched a number of well-being and career support initiatives, aimed at addressing some of the challenges new hires face.

Wild says the most important initiative Amey has put in place is “to bring people into the business dedicated to supporting the well-being of the youngest” to provide pastoral care.

Companies are also trying to find ways to improve guidance and counseling for graduates and apprentices. Smith says Stantec has set up “regular access points where people know they can connect with more experienced employees.”

He also says the importance of pre-existing developing professional groups has increased since the pandemic. “They have groups where they regularly connect graduates and apprentices from all over the company,” he says.

Even though onboarding processes were already mostly online before the pandemic, they proved difficult for new hires and managers when everyone was working remotely. Employers have therefore looked for ways to improve the way information can be accessed and communicated.

Wild mentions a change made by Amey: “Rather than trying to get someone into a physical room or a virtual room and give them information for the first five days and leave people overwhelmed, we feed them. a little more drip. “

Flexible working also offers graduates and apprentices the opportunity to apply for positions outside the region in which they live, as there is less travel or commuting to work. Travel to work may also have prevented people with disabilities from applying for certain jobs in the past.

The switch to telecommuting can also facilitate job changes within a company. Wild notes that he has opened up opportunities for people to “virtually move into a business that may not have existed before.”

Problem solved?

Despite the measures taken by companies and the positive effects of flexible working, some believe that many challenges for new hires will remain.

Barnett says feelings of isolation will persist unless people return to the office.

“I think people will come back to the office eventually,” she said. “I think flexible working is good, but I don’t think it’s a panacea. People need to be together – we are social beings.

Awcock believes that working from home shouldn’t be the only option for employees, because during the pandemic it became “one size fits all for all ways of working” and it was not inclusive. He says businesses should provide spaces for those who can’t work from home because they don’t have the right space or can’t concentrate there.

“As employers we have to listen to staff and I think staff have to listen to employers,” says Wild. “We have to work together to find a solution that works for everyone.

“I think there’s going to be a bit of trial and error with this. We will be wrong many times, but I hope as we move forward we will be successful. “

Support for engineers

The ICE Benevolent Fund provides free services to current and former ICE members and their families in the UK and abroad. In addition to offering financial support and housing support, the organization also offers wellness services and offers programs to help people return to work.

Since the pandemic, demand for wellness services has increased, with many members receiving counseling through the 24-hour helpline and face-to-face.

The fund also provides wellness support through webinars and workshops, as well as access to information on issues such as anxiety and depression through its resource portal.

Even though companies offer such support, many people choose to receive it from the fund because of the confidentiality it offers, says chief executive Kris Barnett.

“Civil engineers are still reluctant to go to their employer if it comes down to the supervisor,” she says. She adds that the wait time for the first consultation session is shorter than with public health services.

Barnett calls on people to seek help as soon as they experience mental health issues because early intervention makes a big difference.

At the round table

This report is based on a virtual roundtable
discussion held in October 2021.

Contributed to the discussion:

Alistair Awcock Director of Infrastructure and Project Management Office, Heathrow

Kris barnett CEO ICE Benevolent Fund

David smith Senior Vice President, Chief Strategy Officer, Stantec

Frazer Savage Head of Professional Excellence, Amey Consulting

Claire Smith editor, RCE

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