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Contracting Is Boring

Contracting Is Boring
It seems graduates in consulting enjoy more notable achievements than their contracting contemporaries.

As part of the small minority of people that actually takes an interest in the NCE Graduate of the Year Award (read: previous winners, and the parents of this year’s batch) I’ve been finding it hard to ignore a certain pattern that persists between the years: The consultant always wins (especially if he works for Arup). However whilst the male/female divide over the last ten years of victors has been largely representative of the slow-balancing equality across the industry, the consultant, contractor and (dare I mention,) client distribution has left a lot to be desired.

In fact, Harry Potter would have had enough to time to find out he was a wizard, kill that guy from In Bruges and complete a masters in Horse Psychology since the last Contractor won the NCE’s Graduate of the Year Award. (That’s a year short of a decade, for those of you without the knowledge of some-what popular culture). In my year, in fact, we didn’t even have a contractor in the final six…

As a direct statement the trend reads: Graduates in consulting enjoy more notable achievements than their contracting contemporaries- or to put it more succinctly:

Contracting is really boring.

Actually, from my own observations it seems that contracting graduates win less awards entirely. Falling back on stereotypes, the guess is that consultants tend towards the academic while contractors have a habit of being more practical. I suspect that this means the entry form is in the favour of a consultant, with half the challenge focusing on a essay of the hypothetical.

Anecdotally one of the excuses I’ve had suggested by friends who are contractors is that they just don’t have the time. I know that in the year I entered, only 19% of the entrants were contractors. In fact, the contractors appear under represented all round; noting that, even being charitable with the designation of more specialist firms, the number of sponsoring (and therefore judging) companies that are consultants outnumber the contractors two to one.

All things being equal, if one fifth of the entrants were contractors there should have been at least one finalist in my year, and the gap between site-based victors somewhat shorter. This is a statement that begs a question; and indeed it might well be worth answering: Why do Arup dominate the NCE Graduate of the Year Award?

Contracting firms on high-profile projects will find it hard to delegate the same degree of technical responsibility to their graduate than a consultancy.

Arup, as a consultancy, focus on prestige and are large enough to support a broad range of esoteric disciplines and intrigues. Graduates at Arup, it seems, are typically exposed to either high-profile projects, or smaller intricate designs of obvious technical merit. Next to that a railway siding and some off-the-cuff hardstanding design is unlikely to hold much sway. Moreover, winning consultants typically get some interesting contracting experience in a philanthropic way.

My suspicion is that the risks involved for contracting firms on high-profile projects make it hard to delegate the same degree of technical responsibility to their graduate than a consultancy, and that the length of the projects contractors are exposed to are typically longer than that of the average designer. This means that, on paper at least, the achievements of a consulting graduate will tend to look better.

Personally, however, I’m a little dubious about whether contracting really is less interesting than consulting. Although I’ve spent most of my career, thus far, on the technicalities of design- I’ve done enough time on site to get my boots dirty, and from what I’ve seen it’s not as dull as all that…

I’d like to finish by saying a big congratulations to this year’s winners, but next year I really want to see a Contractor on the top spot!

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  1. VoxPop

    Maybe it’s self-selection. The more ambitious, career-oriented grads aim for consultancy because its a sector where people move around a lot, while guys who bring in more revenue (by winning these kinds of competitions) are rewarded more extensively.


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