Robert Smith of Hays Construction & Property reports on the opportunities boom in the South-west

Belying its image as an area of peaceful rural retreats, it is a busy time for development in the South-west, with major projects under way from Plymouth to Cheltenham.

Plymouth is experiencing a massive building boom with several multimillion-pound projects well under way. The largest of these is the high-profile redevelopment of Drake Circus by Bovis Lend Lease. Working with several other major contractors and subcontractors, Bovis is overseeing the development of a massive retail space in the main High Street. This project has included the major demolition of several buildings and is creating heavy civil engineering and infrastructure work. Due for completion in 2006 with an estimated cost of well over £200m, the development is expected to boost Plymouth's retail economy dramatically, creating many local jobs and raising the city's tourism potential in the process.

A couple of hours up the M5, the Brewery development in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, is scheduled for completion early next year. The project involves the demolition of the old four-acre brewery site, and the construction of a £40m mixed-use scheme comprising retail, leisure, residential and commercial units. This is expected to create about 300 jobs in the area and bring high-profile retail outlets, and even a casino, into the city centre.

Work has also begun on a £22m flood alleviation scheme in the town. Cheltenham was last hit by major flooding in 1979, but it was purely good fortune that they escaped similar floods in 1998 and 2000. This was due to the fact that the 100 year-old culverts that the town depends on to divert parts of the river underground are in an extreme state of disrepair.

Because of this boom, the South-west continues to enjoy a candidate-driven market, with hourly pay rates for contract professionals up at least 15%. In general, there is still a widespread skills shortage in the region, with areas such as Devon and Cornwall recruiting subcontractors from all over the UK. Ralph McQuillan, a manager at Hays Construction & Property, explains: "Reliable and experienced labour is in short supply at present. We have even begun sourcing workers from eastern European countries to try and meet demand. Despite this, we are still experiencing a shortage in many disciplines."

The commercial sector is experiencing the biggest shortage of staff at the moment. There is a huge demand for quantity surveyors for both main contractors and housing developers - from graduates through to senior QSs.

The South-west's skills shortage is highlighted by a position that Hays Construction & Property recently filled. Looking for a design-and-build manager, the client wanted someone with a minimum of two years' experience, who had good design and programming skills and could act as the main interface between management and the design team. The client was offering £30-34,000 plus a car, health insurance, pension, and 24 days' holiday. Once again, the candidate pool in the South-west was extremely limited and Hays had to source across the UK for potential applicants. It took Hays more than nine months to find the successful candidate, who had 10 years' experience and came from an architectural technician background.

The future looks promising for workers in the region. Over the past few years, regional salaries and benefits have increased and come into line with national packages, and larger contractors are starting to set pay scales that are having a very positive impact on the market - good news for candidates across all sectors of the industry.