It's beautiful, it's sunny, it's laid-back … most people's dream holiday destination is a surprise entry in the construction recruitment stakes. There's a soaring demand for all types of construction staff and wage rates are comparable to the UK.
"The whole of the Caribbean is a real hotspot for us," says Raj Sharma, a senior recruitment manager in Hays Montrose's international division. "Until January we were getting a couple of Caribbean assignments a month, now we're getting 10 times that. There's loads of vacancies and clients want multiples of some jobs – not just one QS but three all at once."
What's caused this demand? It varies from island to island. In some places it's due to the influx of tourist money, which means a glut of leisure and hotel facilities. And in others it's about upgrading public services, meaning there's plenty of infrastructure, health and education work available.
"For example, Trinidad is aiming to hit first-world status by 2020," says Kevin Flynn, a Hays Montrose international senior manager. "So they're looking to invest £100m from their oil and natural gas reserves in infrastructure and public services."
Each island should be seen as a different market with a very different character, he advises. This is the key to being happy with your placement. "The character of the islands differs quite a lot. Trinidad has an urban culture, a big population and good facilities. Some are very small with a tiny population, so you need to be used to small-town culture."
Then there's the other end of the scale, the well-known tourist traps: "The cost of living in Trinidad is very cheap there but Bermuda, say, is very expensive, it's driven by Americans so it's very touristy."
The attractions of the region as a whole are obvious: a family-friendly location, great for people to visit, good infrastructure and services, and schools are available. Also you don't have to be a linguist – everyone speaks English.
Whether your partner will find work is another question, however, as on many islands the opportunities in other sectors are limited. But Flynn says there's a shortage of nurses and teachers so those professions should not have problems.
2 North Africa
As this area opens up to the West, there's a lot of infrastructure investment and therefore demand for UK-trained workers. However, speaking French is an essential – and French-speaking, UK-based surveyors and engineers are hard to find.
If you are one of the few, however, you can look forward to plenty of big civils and healthcare projects, according to Kevin Flynn of Hays Montrose. Morocco and Algeria both have jobs available, with quantity surveyors in particular demand.
3 Middle East (Dubai, Quatar, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi)
It's got a reputation as the best-paid location in the world but this isn't the case any more, says Flynn of Hays Montrose. "Historically everyone thought the Middle East was where the big money was, but recently the salaries haven't been as good as everyone thinks. This is for several reasons. Because of the fall in the dollar, people have seen perhaps a 20% fall in the real value of their salary. There's also the soaring cost of living, especially in popular destinations such as Dubai; and excessive expectations – people expect to earn a lot tax-free but they don't realise UK salaries are very good at the moment. If you have to put your kids into private school and your partner is not be able to find work out in the Middle East, you lose a lot of money, so that tax-free advantage will disappear. Then there's competition from lower-cost workers in the local population or from cheaper countries such as India and the Philippines."
But, he says, there's still a demand for UK workers because companies want the status that our professional membership and qualifications bring. And there's still quite a bit of work out there – for example the two Palm Island projects in Dubai, and now a similar one in Doha. There's also an entire new city being built for 100,000 people called Al Khiran in Kuwait.
So what skills are most in demand? Kevin Flynn cites technically qualified engineers of all kinds, especially civil, mechanical, structural and electrical; and all types of surveyors. And Dubai has a strong market for good high spec interior architects with a RIBA qualification. "They're willing to pay good money if you've got a degree and professional institute membership," he says.
As for language skills, Flynn says that Arabic helps but it's really not essential – all of these countries have a strong English-speaking culture.
4 Far East
Project managers are needed by Western companies operating in several Far Eastern countries – including China, as highlighted by Building (23 April). "There are a lot of water treatment and desalination plants under construction at the moment," says Raj Sharma of Hays Montrose. "There's quite a lot of engineering and heavy construction-related work. British expertise is needed in the construction process and to project manage but not so much in the design process."
5 Australia's East Coast
Australia's construction market has been booming in the past couple of years and although things have slowed a little, the prospects are still good. Government spending on infrastructure will rise strongly over the next five years, meaning a lot of work on roads, bridges, rail, tunnels and harbour works. Mining and heavy industry is busy and expected to continue. There are particular shortages of surveyors, project managers, CAD operators, foremen and site managers, and ESD designers. Salary levels are high and living standards good. And a lack of graduates means it's not only experienced staff who are in demand.
"As an Englishman living in Sydney I can thoroughly recommend the move down under," says recruitment consultant Adam Walker from Conduit Group. "You get a superior quality of life in a vibrant, beautiful country – it's an ideal location for raising a young family. Living costs are low and there's a thriving rental market; UK nationals are always amazed by the variety and low cost of rented accommodation. The work environment is relaxed and informal and you can work on a great range of projects as each state has a good mix of residential, commercial and civil works."
The only problem is in getting a work permit, although this is a lot easier than it used to be, says Mark Farris from Judd Farris Recruitment. "People coming over on working holiday visas can only work for three months before needing sponsorship," he explains. "But an increasing number of employers are now open to sponsoring professionals, due to big skilled labour shortages. It's expensive for them so companies look to share the risk with the prospective employee by getting some sort of indemnity from them. This is usually an undertaking that if they leave the company within a particular timeframe, the employee has to cover the cost of obtaining the visa."