Global construction is set to boom over the next decade, so where are UK construction consultants most in demand?

careers feature

The global construction market is expected to grow by 70% over the next decade, reaching an annual value of more than $15tn by 2025, with fast-developing countries such as Indonesia expected to become major markets for UK firms with international reach.

But while so many countries are showing growth, the appetite for UK expertise, and the types of skills needed, varies. Building asked four HR directors of UK-based construction consultants to say in which countries they saw the biggest demand for UK talent in their firms, and what they look for in ideal candidates.

Helen McCarthy, head of HR, EC Harris

The opportunity for professionally accredited people to fast-track their career outside of the UK has never been greater. Growth in our industry has opened up far more opportunity than in many other industries to gain international experience.

We are seeing overseas demand for technical project and programme management expertise to work on bigger and bigger project opportunities across the world. This is particularly true in Middle East countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, in Asia Pacific including China and Malaysia, and in parts of Latin America including Brazil, Chile and Peru. There are also opportunities in our US business where EC Harris’ parent company Arcadis has recently won a number of long-term major programmes of work, and is seeing strong demand in many of the big urban centres such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.  

Across all of these countries there are opportunities for skilled specialists in project management, planning engineering, cost engineering, project controls, cost estimating, quantity surveying, contract engineering and risk management analysis. Opportunities such as these are open to all, and we are seeing an increasing number of our female employees take up senior project management roles abroad, too.

As a business we are investing heavily to meet the resourcing challenge that the market upturn in these regions presents. This involves bringing new people into our business through acquisition and by focussing on organically growing our people’s careers through our fast-track leadership programme and learning and development platform. This ensures that our people are equipped with well-rounded skills and capabilities for the future.

Together with our clients, we want consultants who are able to display positive collaborative behaviours and cultural empathy to the country in which they will be living. This, coupled with the necessary technical skills, allows our people to take advantage of the many exciting career opportunities on offer wherever our clients need us the most.

Stephen Reilly, director of talent acquisition - EMEA, Aecom

The UK’s strengthening market, together with the industry-wide skills shortage, is making the demand for mid-level professionals, both in the UK and abroad, more challenging. In particular, attracting qualified cost and project managers and project controls professionals in places like Qatar and the wider Middle East is proving to be an ongoing challenge.

The balance between supply and demand has put added pressure on ensuring that the top priorities for people moving to the region with their families, such as quality school places and suitable accommodation, are met.

For those moving abroad without dependents, or those moving within the region, attracting the top talent is still challenging. You have to be able make attractive offers while providing a compelling and exciting project portfolio. Professionals want the opportunity to work on landmark projects - and this is a big draw for those looking to join Aecom - regardless of location.

Technical skills and professional qualifications are not always the key criteria we look for. We try to attract candidates who have excellent customer relationship skills, commercial acumen and who can provide innovative solutions for our clients. Communicating this to the candidate market is not always easy to achieve and it’s even harder for the candidate to portray through their CV during application.

We often rely on referrals from employees or our contacts, including clients and client partners. Aecom’s ability to offer exciting project opportunities means that we tend to attract market leaders.

Market sector experience or professional bias is not location specific - finding the right person to lead one of our market sectors in London is as challenging as it would be in Jeddah or Johannesburg - showing each and every candidate the unique opportunity that Aecom can offer is critical to attracting them into the organisation.

Stuart Senior, chair of the HR board, Gleeds

For those operating internationally there is some cause for optimism. A whistle-stop tour of the opportunity areas around the world brings out a number of highlights. We are likely to see Dubai, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states continuing to develop, but the constant challenge of stability and security in the Middle East remains an issue. Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong are showing great potential in the next five years. China is not as expansive as it once was, with projects being mothballed as the government tries to control inflation, but it is still busy.  

America is always going to be a country keener to look forward rather than being mired in the past. And it is just starting to appreciate the concept of independent cost and project management. India is still an exciting region, even if the fees available are shaped and constricted by local market conditions.

The UK-based qualifications are still recognised as some of the best in the world. We are looking for men and women who are prepared to move and embrace the change in lifestyle and culture that comes with relocating to a different country. 

The main challenge for those looking to work abroad is acquiring local market knowledge, together with an understanding of local customs, culture and practices. To gain this experience inevitably takes time, and the reality that as people get older they become more settled in the UK and less willing to accept change. It is our role to ensure that client expectations are met by those with an enthusiasm to expand their knowledge base and who view working and living in a new country as an opportunity for personal, as well as professional, development.

Richard Nicholl, resource director, Atkins Middle East

We are currently experiencing strong growth in our infrastructure and rail business in both Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and this is where our strongest focus on skilled staff attraction lies.
In Qatar, our high profile contracts with Qatar Rail are seeing us deliver on the Gold Line and Red Line South as part of the Doha Metro and on the Lusail Light Rail project in the capacity of lead designer, verification engineer and major stations designer.

In infrastructure, our work for the Public Works Authority (Ashghal) on Contract 2 sees us playing a lead role on delivering Ashghal’s Local Roads and Drainage Programme across the country.

We are also experiencing growth in our subsidiary company Faithful+Gould for project and programme management professionals in Qatar.

In Saudi Arabia we expect to see more major works programmes coming online soon in both the rail and infrastructure sectors, building on from our work on projects such as Riyadh Metro and King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.

UK expertise is highly valued and the culture is such that our staff get to enjoy a good, varied lifestyle. They often get to take on more responsibility more quickly than might be possible in the UK, so it’s a great way of building up your CV.

There is huge ambition right across the region to create successful, liveable cities which are economically and environmentally sustainable - we’re also very busy in the property and urban design sectors.
The region’s ambition is driving all our markets and resulting in some really interesting projects which will improve people’s lives here for the better. This is something that really motivates our people, because they get a very strong sense of what they are helping to achieve.