Robert Smith of Hays Construction & Property reports on the Scottish Highlands

Over the past few years, there has been a significant increase in the number of professional construction staff relocating to Scotland, particularly to the Highlands.

The underlying reasons are that demand for skilled workers in the area is leading to a steep rise in salaries, and candidates who are looking for a higher standard of living are heading for the hills.

PFI and PPP ventures in education, transport and infrastructure have fuelled demand for workers across the region. One of these projects is the Highland Council Schools development, which will begin in September 2005. This will involve the refurbishment or building of nine schools in the region. The total value of the work is more than £150, which makes it the biggest new-build scheme in the Highlands this year. It is scheduled for completion in March 2007.

The Scottish Water Framework, a national agreement on behalf of the water authority, is a five-year project estimated to be worth about £800m. This will begin in November 2004, and will continue until December 2009. The framework consists of a new-build water treatment works and the refurbishment of existing plants. GMJV, a joint venture between Galliford Try and Morgan Est, is working on water treatment works. It is on site at Thurso, on the north coast of Scotland, at Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, in the Orkneys, the Shetlands, and Beauly and Aviemore in the Cairngorms. GMJV is currently the biggest recruiter in the Highlands.

Projects such as these have had a positive effect on the regional market. Unemployment levels are at an all-time low, and the Highlands boasts one of the best employment records in Scotland. Inverness and neighbouring towns are becoming highly desirable places to relocate to, and as a result, the region's residential market is taking off. Property developers are building between 300 to 400 houses in the area every year, and that figure will increase in the near future.

With its buoyant and growing construction industry, northern Scotland has begun to experience a massive skills shortage in most sectors. From bricklayers to site engineers, joiners to architects, skilled and experienced staff are in high demand. "Many people left northern Scotland years ago when the market was

waning and it was hard to find training and work in their particular profession," says

Glyn Evans, a senior consultant at Hays Construction & Property. "It is a continuing process for us to re-educate candidates about the realities of living in the region - which include rising salaries, an abundance of jobs and a lower cost of living."

The skills shortage is illustrated by a project manager position that Hays had to fill. Andrew O'Connor, a consultant at Hays, says: "The position required that the candidate have experience in new-build projects valued at more than £8m (both civil and building construction), and have two or three years' experience in a similar role. Project managers are very thin on the ground right now in the region, and we eventually had to source a candidate from the north of England to fill this particular position."

As a direct result of the skills shortage, salaries are beginning to rise dramatically across northern Scotland. In the latest salary surveys conducted by Hays (, most sectors saw an average 7% salary increase compared with the year before. Market insiders expect this trend to continue, which is good news for candidates who considering relocating to the area.