Addressing the growth challenge
Rebranded remediation company Englobe UK managing director Julia Roberts talks about further expansion into the ground engineering market and the ongoing skills shortage.
Canadian engineering and environmental services firm Englobe is not a new operator in the UK. Its UK-based subsidiaries have been doing business under the names of Celtic and Biogenie since the 1990s.
Celtic is a specialist remediation contractor and Biogenie operates soil treatment facilities. At the start of this year, they were fully integrated into their parent company and relaunched as Englobe UK.
Englobe UK managing director Julia Roberts says: “Englobe has been operating in the UK for 30 years now and it has traded successfully through various recessions. We are specialists in contaminated land and groundwater, particularly when it comes to gasworks sites.”
Celtic was acquired by Englobe in 2008 and Roberts became its managing director in 2016 having previously been finance director. She is now in charge of the rebranded, consolidated UK entity.
“We have a joint venture with Biffa Waste, where we have soil treatment facilities on five of their landfills, where customers take in contaminated soils for treatment and reuse in restoration schemes, thus avoiding putting soils into landfill,” she continues.
“We work for a diverse range of clients from National Grid, who we’ve worked with for over 25 years now, to the oil sector, the chemical sector and a range of developers.”
In addition to working on National Grid’s former gasworks sites, Englobe has been involved with the Battersea Power Station redevelopment, where it carried out dewatering works.
It is currently working on High Speed 2 and the Newcastle Gateshead Quays scheme.
In addition to the name change, Englobe aims to strengthen its position in the UK by providing its full set of services that covers a wider range of engineering and environmental solutions.
Integrating the UK subsidiaries will not bring about changes in management, and current projects will continue to be led by the same teams as before. But Englobe’s view was that “it would be easier and simpler if everybody was under the same name”, Roberts explains.
“We had two legal entities in the UK – Biogenie and Celtic,” she continues. “We’ve consolidated them into one company, which makes sense, because we were running them as if they were one company with the same management team. We have taken the opportunity to simplify things and take advantage of the large brand that Englobe is.”
With consolidation complete, Roberts believes she will now have more time to work on strategic initiatives. She also wants to “get out a bit more” to work on the firm’s growth plans.
She says the goal is now to “really push into the UK” by going after bigger projects and offering more ground engineering services.
“In France and Canada, Englobe provides additional services other than contaminated land and enabling works. These include engineering and professional services and also treating organic waste.
It’s a good opportunity to bring some of the other services that are done elsewhere in the world under the Englobe umbrella and to start to offer those to our clients in the UK as well.
Julia Roberts, Managing director, Englobe UK
After leaving university with a zoology degree, Roberts found herself working for contaminated land contractor QDS Environmental – one of Englobe’s competitors. While there, she worked on a chartered accountancy qualification.
“From there, I moved into IT, and I then spent nine years in retail, taking a company from about eight staff, to floating it on the AIM. So, I have a background in fast-growing companies. And then from there, I came to Celtic, as it was then, as finance director,” she recounts.
As such, Roberts’ career path led her back to the environmental and engineering sector.
For Englobe at the moment, we’re wanting to grow, but it’s a service that we provide, so to do this you need staff. So, I think a challenge that’s well documented in the press already is the skills shortage,” she says.
“We need to get people in at the grassroots and coming up to be able to manage that growth and be able to carry on delivering the quality of service. And I think that attracting women and other minorities that are not very well represented in the industry is one of the ways in which we are going to be able to bridge that gap.”
Even after returning from her stint in other industries, she is often still the only woman in the room in business meetings. In the last 10 years, she has seen the face of the traditionally male dominated engineering sector change but says “it’s still got a way to go”.
“On a day-to-day basis, I think the environment is very respectful,” she says. “But there just isn’t the number of women coming through. I think the industry needs to think about how they manage people going off on maternity leave and coming back.
“When we’ve had ladies go off and have children, I’ve been keen to try and really champion them back into the business and try and accommodate them.”
Roberts believes that to combat the ongoing skills shortage, engineering companies must do something about the so-called leaky pipeline affecting employment in the industry.
“For women, I think that they get to a certain level and then quite often go off to have children and then aren’t accommodated well to return to the industry.”
I think it’s really important that we make companies much more family focused or flexible around the roles, so that people can have a family and work.
Julia Roberts, Managing director, Englobe UK
“I’ve got a young family and I don’t make any secret of that. So, I’m trying to prove to people that it is possible to do it.”
One way of achieving this is by companies offering good maternity and paternity policies and clear paths back to work, including solutions such as job sharing.
“Also, when you go on sites, I don’t think it’s done deliberately, but sometimes they’re not particularly well set up for women in terms of the facilities and the PPE, and so on,” Roberts adds.
“So, I think there’s got to be some role models to attract people into it in the first place, but then also making it more family friendly and much more flexible in the way that people come back.”
She highlights the importance of offering women meaningful roles after maternity leave and showing that they can still reach higher positions.
I’ve had quite a few ladies say to me: ‘We’ve seen that somebody’s running as managing director of a remediation company, which hasn’t been seen before.’ So, it’s possible.
Julia Roberts, Managing Director, Englobe UK
Roberts hopes that as a side effect of further digitalization, the industry will learn to work more efficiently – perhaps by doing more with less staff.
“And that also plays to the whole green agenda and doing things in a more environmentally and sustainable way,” she adds.
Overall, despite its challenges, Roberts thinks it is an exciting time to be part of the engineering industry, as Englobe is keeping busy and looking at further growth.
This article was originally published in the Ground Engineering magazine: https://www.geplus.co.uk/features/julia-roberts-addressing-the-growth-challenge-29-06-2022/