The Infrastructure world has never been more uncertain. Not as some might expect from politics, since the very long lead time of major projects means this isn’t a major issue at national level, but through changing technology.

Someone working towards a PhD in cutting edge technology can easily find their subject matter obsolete before their final thesis is submitted. And a multi-million pound tender based on existing technology can find itself laughed out of court if a competitor is able to offer the job more efficiently, more quickly or more cheaply through having a superior command of technological solutions.

Technology is usually what makes the difference in both winning a major project and making a profit from it, but over the ten or twenty years from concept to delivery, technology will have changed so immensely that the original plans may look like a museum piece.

I joined Aspen this year from a background firmly rooted in Infrastructure projects so I know how crucial it is to have an appropriate talent and temperament balance. The value I add as a sector specialist is to truly understand the task and the recipe required, at all levels, to ensure success.

From the candidate viewpoint, I need to understand how one individual can help a company reach where it wants to be within a 3-5 year perspective. I also need to help and coach candidates about the company so that they really know what the challenges are and how they can best contribute. This covers everything from what to wear and what to ask, to what salary range might be appropriate so that we can find a fit that works for both sides.

From the company’s point of view, as specialist consultants we need to identify, not just what someone knows or has done before, but evidence that they stay up to date, are flexible in their ideas and retain the passion for change. Ideally, they will not only spot opportunities but can quickly weight up the implications, embrace new solutions intelligently and persuade colleagues, funders and other planning professionals to join them on the journey.

This is a completely different skillset for traditional recruitment to get to grips with since it’s extremely hard to show these things on a CV. Nor is age a defining factor.

A decade or so ago, choosing a candidate with a proven track record in delivering similar projects was considered the “safe” option. Selection favoured older, more experienced candidates as a result. Now though, a recent degree or training may be the defining factor, with an added challenge that its subject matter may be in something the existing management and recruitment team know very little about.

Far from being a safe option, the candidate who already knows how to do something may cost their company millions in revenue, lost through failure to spot how to do something differently even in the middle of the project.

It takes a smart person indeed to be able to do a job; stay up to date with worldwide developments in their own field and others; be able to spot emerging opportunities and work out how they could be incorporated for beneficial effect.

Of course, they need to be smart at risk management too, to work out the implications should emerging technology NOT live up to its promise, or have unintended consequences which could as easily derail a project as enhance it.

In social infrastructure, energy, renewable and construction sectors alike we are seeing evidence that smart, senior people in the project management team are seeing this change and it’s both making them nervous and constipating the sector.

Senior people are afraid to move roles as the landscape in new projects varies from hazy to downright terrifying. And recruiters are damned if they select on experience but could be damned if they don’t. On the positive side, the Old School Tie Network isn’t even at the races when stakes are as high as these.

Younger candidates can be ambitious, aggressive and extremely bright but again, the stakes are high and it’s terrifying for funders to risk reputation, even corporate existence, on untried candidates speaking on subjects they themselves may know nothing about.

This is where recruitment and selection has moved from being a task to a science. Our job nowadays is to interview the corporate team to find out what sort of personality they require to fill a role. Too many disruptors and nothing may ever get done. Too many “safe hands” and the project may founder. The alchemy is in the mix.

We have to help companies become employers of choice and define reasons for the best people to make a move to join them, since there’s always a risk in every move. We also interview each and every candidate and make discreet enquiries about their MO, to really test if what they say about themselves really is a good indicator of how they will perform.

If recruitment is done properly, it results in candidates desperately wanting the move and employers champing at the bit to get them on board. If the cultural fit is appropriate then magic can happen. If the groundwork has not been done then the worst case scenario is a breakdown of trust; loss of earnings and a hard lesson for both sides.

It can also unfortunately cost millions of pounds in lost revenue but it’s an ill wind..., since that’s also why specialist recruitment in Infrastructure is booming. Across Infrastructure projects, salaries for the best people have also never been more promising.

For further information, contact Ray at 0141 212 7555 or email direct at

Ray Williamson is an Associate Director and Infrastructure recruitment specialist at Aspen People. Aspen is based in Glasgow with a UK and international client base.

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