Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Working abroad

There are lots of opportunities to work overseas in the construction industry as all the leading civil and structural engineering companies have operations across the world. Many overseas postings also come from developing countries where population growth and increasing tourism are fuelling projects in housing, commercial builds and public works, as well as industrial process plants and transport infrastructure.

Your opportunities

One of the surest ways to get a job abroad is to work for a UK-based company with overseas offices and operations. Although you are unlikely to find yourself on a plane immediately, construction professionals can find themselves posted abroad at quite an early stage in their career.

Mott MacDonald, an international consultancy with employees working in over 100 countries, sends some of its UK graduate recruits overseas once they have gained a few years' experience. Global construction giant, Atkins recruits new graduates into one of its UK offices but has plenty of future opportunities to work overseas.

Disaster also creates demand for skilled building and construction professionals. For example, the Indonesian government set down £40 billion to recover its infrastructure following the Tsunami of 2004. The relief agency Registered Engineers for Disaster Relief (RedR) has 4,000 professional engineers registered on its database.

Benefits of working overseas

Don't underestimate the benefits of overseas experience to your future career. An overseas posting can:
Display your ability to work with diverse groups of people and teams
Offer an opportunity to gain and hone language skills
Improve your awareness of different cultures and working styles
Set yourself out as a self-starter, motivated to develop your career
Bring financial benefits — particularly from overseas living expenses and tax advantages

Marketing your skills

If you decide to embark on a search for overseas experience, target your applications carefully. Be honest with yourself about where in the world you would be most suited to work and then research thoroughly all potential employers in those areas and the types of personnel they are likely to want.

As a national of a European Economic Area (EEA) or European Union (EU) country, you have the right to work in any other member state, without requiring a work permit. However, unemployment is high in some of the newer member states so the flow of workers is more likely to be out than in.

Currently the following EEAs or EU countries have a demand for skilled professionals in the building and construction industry: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

Elsewhere in the world, the opportunities available to you will depend on the state of the local employment market, work permit requirements and immigration procedures. Immigration into Commonwealth countries is becoming more difficult, as they produce large numbers of their own graduates, and often employers and governments are only interested in recruiting Britons if they are unable to fill their vacancies from their own national pool of recruits.

Do not be tempted to travel to the country you'd like to live and work in and then start looking for a job. It is virtually impossible to gain the right to work in a country once you are there. Immigrant visas are normally granted to people who apply in their country of residence so sort out all the paperwork before you leave home.

Your skills and qualifications

Not all academic and professional qualifications are recognised internationally. Some countries consider degrees to be vocational and some employers will be wary of employing arts and social science graduates for commercial positions. British graduates can find that overseas employers are sceptical of degrees that take only three years to complete as their national students spend much longer gaining their degrees. New language skills can take a long time to acquire, so make sure you know how crucial this is for any position you are considering.

Potential employers

Major UK-based building and construction companies with overseas offices and/or operations include:
Balfour Beatty
Bouygues UK
Fluor Corp
Halcrow Group
Mott MacDonald

Information sources

It is always worth starting your search for job opportunities online either through the leading job sites or recruitment consultancies, many of whom have specialist international divisions. Search international jobs on

If you are looking for work in an EU country, try consulting the employment services in the UK or the country where you wish to work. The European Job Mobility Portal provides contact details in each country, details of vacancies across Europe plus information on living and working conditions in various countries.

For speculative applications to overseas companies, try using some of the following sources to identify a list of potential employers.
UK Trade & Investment — information centre; statistics and market information.
Expertise in Labour Mobility — agency offering information on job availability and recruitment practices in various countries.
Europages — online business directory of 600,000 companies in 35 European countries.
Directory of International Employers — produced by the careers service at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) covers 19 countries outside Europe and the USA.

Enquiries about immigration should be made to the appropriate embassy or high commission in the UK. Full details are available from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

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