"Housing has been the driving force behind workloads," said Rob Fry, regional manager of Kent and Surrey at Hays Montrose. "116,000 homes are to be built in Kent by 2021 and our Kent office has grown by 30% year-on-year for the past three years, mainly on the back of the housing boom."
Affordable houses are in demand, but housebuilders who specialise in executive-style family homes have had to let staff go, as their houses are not selling.
On the other hand, Fry reported that social housing, surveying and architecture job markets are extremely busy with record levels of job registrations. But although activity is increasing, the number of applicants is not, and recruits are coming from outside the region.
Candidates' chances are improved by having a solid, unbroken work history, which is viewed highly in the industry. "Our clients do not want people who have jumped about from company to company, or who have been doing a lot of temporary work," said Marco Pucci, office manager of Hays Montrose Croydon, Surrey. "They prefer applicants with a minimum five years' experience with each company."
Lynne Crowe, office manager from Hays Montrose Maidstone, Kent, said salaries have increased over the past five years for those with continuous work histories. Site managers have experienced the biggest salary increase over the past year. Crowe recently filled a site manager role on a £2m project which required applicants to have five years' refurbishment experience.
The successful applicant was 51, had 15 years' site management experience with four different contractors and was offered £35,000, a pension and performance-related pay. Crowe noted that an applicant with such a solid background was difficult to find.
Skill shortages and high property and rental prices mean the South-east pays higher salaries than most other regions. Salaries have been steadily rising over the past year, with the biggest increase for quantity surveyors and site managers, due to a shortage of applicants. For example, five years ago, the same applicant would have received only £28,000.
There is, however, an oversupply of maintenance surveyors and CAD operator applicants. Crowe recently filled a maintenance supervisor position in Orpington, Kent. The successful applicant had five years' experience in similar roles and was offered £23,000 with a car and stakeholder pension. The successful applicant was 49. Five years ago, the typical salary for this role would have been £21,000.
Trends indicate that 2003 will continue to be a busy one for the region. Fry expects the Kent housing market will experience a shortfall of quality site managers, foremen and quantity surveyors. "As our clients win more business and the number of new sites continues to increase, there just won't be the managerial staff available.
"Our clients tell us that they are now operating at full capacity. As we have seen before, it will soon be a case of companies beginning to poach staff, and wages will be forced upwards as a result."
Robert Smith is from Hays Montrose.