This week, Robert Smith of Hays Montrose looks at the job market in the South-east, where a building boom means contractors are looking for skilled recruits
Rising demands for permanent staff point towards positive prospects for the South-east following a long recruitment sector slowdown in 2002.

Lynne Crowe, office manager of Hays Montrose Maidstone, almost doubled her February placements this year compared with the same month last year. She also noted that "the number of permanent jobs registered is up 25% on average compared with this time last year".

The reversal of the South-east's market misfortunes started in December 2002, with companies taking on more contracts and public spending and housing schemes increasing.

Sussex, for one, has become a real hot spot. "The London market is reaching saturation and is very competitive," said Rob Buckingham, office manager of Hays Montrose Crawley. "Brighton has become especially popular and is attracting a lot of investment after it was granted city status, with increased interest in the M23 corridor in particular.

"I spoke to a senior quantity surveyor today who relocated from London because he couldn't afford to buy a house there," he added. "At first he commuted to his London-based job, but now he wants to work here, too."

Buckingham's candidate is not alone, and migration from London is the main factor behind the South-east's 50,000-a-year population increase.

As a result, contractors for housing, public buildings, commercial and industrial projects are recruiting at all levels. Most wanted are those in middle management positions, such as project surveyors and site and project managers, with estimators, planners and buyers also in demand.

There is still a general shortage of qualified and experienced people at all levels, with maintenance surveyors and new-build site managers in particular demand. Although there is an oversupply of maintenance supervisors.

According to Crowe, clients usually require a minimum of three years' experience on larger projects, preferably with local knowledge.

She recently filled a site manager position for new-build warehouses in Sittingbourne, where the client required four years' experience in new-build or design-and-build projects. The job offered a salary of £32,000 plus a car, pension and healthcare.

Salaries and benefits have stayed fairly level, although they have risen above inflation and gap between South-east and London salaries has narrowed. For example, the Building/Hays Montrose consultants' salary guide (see 4 April, page 38) showed a maintenance surveyor with eight years' experience typically earns £30,000 in central London and £26,600 in the South-east.

Site managers and quantity surveyors have experienced the sharpest salary increases. The average senior QS now earns £35,500 and a newly qualified QS can expect £27,500.

For contract workers, an increase in applicants has meant some contractors have been offering slightly lower rates. However, they have generally remained steady – although they are not increasing with inflation.

Trends indicate that 2003 will continue to be a busy year for the South-east, especially in Kent, with a large number of big developments on stream. "Our offices are already at peak summer levels," said Buckingham. "This is expected to accelerate and we are having to review and improve procedures to meet client and candidate demand."