In the latest of the series on regional job markets, Robert Smith of Hays Montrose examines East Anglia, where activity and salaries are on the up and up
From the Fens in the west, across the rolling landscape of Suffolk and Norfolk, taking in Cambridge and 120 miles of sandy coastline, there is plenty of choice on offer in East Anglia. Its construction recruitment market also has a tempting diversity, especially for London-based candidates. With an increase in large projects and more big contractors active in the area, salaries have shifted upwards.

Five years ago, a typical 45-year-old civils project manager would have been on £24,000 plus car, whereas in central London, this same applicant would have been on £28,000 plus car. Today, the gap has narrowed: that same candidate could expect £36,000-38,000 in East Anglia plus a car allowance, pension scheme and possibly a bonus scheme, and in London it would be £38,000-40,000 plus similar benefits.

Major contractors such as Bluestone, French Kier Anglia, Shepherd, May Gurney and Bovis Lend Lease, which have all opened or are planning to open offices in the region, are having a huge impact on salaries. Their presence has meant smaller firms have had to compete for the best candidates, and so have begun to offer healthcare and benefits packages.

But if salaries have shifted upwards, so have employers' expectations. "Whatever field our clients are in, they are requesting applicants with at least three to five years' experience within that particular sector alone," says Hays Montrose manager Tara Quinn.

Quinn's team in Norwich recently filled a project management position with a major contractor on a multimillion pound new-build project, where the successful applicant had 27 years' experience. Due to the high value of the project, the client wanted someone they could put their confidence in. The successful candidate was offered £40,000 plus bonus scheme, healthcare package, final salary pension scheme and car allowance.

While such an applicant is hard to come by, it is the range of experience candidates bring to a project, rather than the number of years' service, that is most highly valued by clients. "That applicant had worked within construction from many different angles – as a site engineer, electrical project manager, contracts manager, package manager, and across a varied portfolio of projects," says Quinn.

Salaries are now almost in line with London, which means candidates from London are attracted to the region. For example, five years ago, the typical salary for this project management position would have been £32,000, with similar benefits (except for a car rather than a car allowance). However, clients are asking for local applicants who are more likely to stay in the role for a longer period of time than someone commuting to the area every day.