Consultant Atkins is looking to hire up to 400 professional staff for its UK businesses in 2004
Company directors believe the firm needs to expand its skills base to take on its increased workload. Much of this is thought to be the result of Atkins' membership Metronet, one of the two consortium running the PPP contract to upgrade London Underground.

Michael Byrne, a director of Atkins' design environment and engineering division, said: "We need to recruit between 300 and 400 fee earners, such as engineers and architects, to fulfil our requirements for the next year."

At present Atkins employs 15,000 staff worldwide, about 75% of which are fee earners.

The company has been able to take advantage of its overseas pool of workers when it has needed to bring engineers and architects into UK projects quickly. It recently brought two Chinese designers over from its Beijing rail office to help design the communications network for the Tube. An Atkins spokesperson said: "We had a peak of workload just before Christmas, so we needed to bring in some extra expertise."

An industry expert said that the skills shortage across the country meant that bringing workers in from overseas was inevitable when short-term workloads increase.

We need engineers and architects to fulfil our requirements

Michael Byrne, an Atkins director