Robert Smith of Hays Construction and Property says the South-west is the place to be
The South-west has had an industrious start to the new year with commercial and residential developments set to transform its cities. Bristol, the largest city in the region, fittingly enough has the largest mixed-use regeneration project in the West Country - the £750m Bristol Arena project - right in its heart, while the £500m Merchants Quarter scheme is creating a eyecatching entrance to the city.
The development, which started in September 2005, is due to finish in 2008 bringing 3500 permanent jobs into the area.
Plymouth's building boom is also contributing to growth. This is focused on the redevelopment of Drake Circus and Royal William Yard, which are being converted into a mixture of residential and commercial properties. The £200m revamp of Drake Circus will provide 1000 jobs during construction and 2000 on completion.
Prompted by the developments, the South West Regional Development Agency has also spent £5m on improvements to the roads, pavements and quaysides.
The increase in commercial building has heightened the difficulty in filling some key positions in Plymouth. Hays Construction and Property was recently approached to find a project manager with a minimum of 10 years' experience. In return, the position offered a salary of up to £55,000, benefits such as a car allowance, private health cover and a pension. As an additional incentive, the position offered a bonus if the project was completed on time. But Hays manager Jo Lambert says: "This position proved extremely difficult to fill because of a lack of candidates with retail experience in Plymouth, resulting from a shortage of retail activity previously undertaken in the region."
After two weeks of intensive searching, Lambert says: "In the end we needed to recruit from outside Plymouth to find somebody with the relevant retail experience."
Experienced management is in great demand and positions are often difficult to fill. For example, a construction manager in Taunton was required to manage all contractual obligations and the day-to-day running of a local business. Eventually, after three weeks, a construction manager with the right skill set and level of experience was found in the South-east.
The high demand for quality candidates has also had a positive effect on salaries in the region. Rob Bennett, Hays Construction and Property consultant, says: "In most cases in the South-west, salaries are still on the increase above the rate of inflation. There are also more instances of generous bonus schemes for completion of projects on time and to budget."
Bennett suggests that the greatest problem in the South-west is finding candidates with a valid CSCS card, an issue that is being taken increasingly seriously by the industry.
Overall, the outlook for the South-west is encouraging, with high-profile redevelopments in historic city centres likely to reinvigorate the wider region. It is not hard to imagine that many construction professionals will be lured by the exciting projects, the high standard of living and those ever-rising salaries.