The Thames Valley is one of Europe's premier business locations, well situated to reach global markets thanks to its proximity to Heathrow. It attracts investment from across the world and is home to the European headquarters of 10 of the world's 50 largest corporation.
The main factor in this explosion of job opportunities has been the growth of PFI and Ministry of Defence commercial work. People to fill permanent posts are especially valuable: jobs on these projects now account for 80% of Hays Montrose Reading's permanent vacancies.
As a result of this, 50,000 people are flowing into the area each year, which in turn has boosted the housebuilding and infrastructure construction markets.
Victoria Ball, section manager of Hays Montrose Reading, says 80% of temporary jobs registered are for housebuilding projects. "The nature of housebuilding, with its peaks and troughs, means short-term contract workers, from site managers to labourers, are needed."
In particularly short supply are quantity surveyors, buyers, estimators, building surveyors and good site managers at all levels, especially intermediate and qualified. On the other hand, facilities management and project management vacancies have attracted an oversupply of candidates in recent months.
Salaries have been driven up as a result of these skill shortages. Good site managers have seen, on average, a £3000-4000 pay increase over the past five years, and quantity surveyors have experienced the even bigger increases. For example, the annual Building/Hays Montrose contractor's salary guide (published on 25 October 2002) shows that the average for a senior quantity surveyor in this area is £38,000, which is 38% more than the 1997 figure of £27,500.
Richard Whitton at Hays Montrose Reading recently placed a housing site manager on a £1.5m luxury development in the Thames Valley. Applicants were required to have more than five years' housing site management experience. The successful 31-year-old candidate was offered £36,000, healthcare, contributory pension, fuel card and bonus structure. Five years ago, a similar role would have paid £28,000 plus car and pension.
Although there are now more graduates entering the market than in recent years, there are fewer tradespeople and this has affected trade salaries. As Victoria Ball says: "A good plumber can already earn more than a site manager in some instances."
In an attempt to overcome skill shortages, Hays Montrose is looking outside the region to other locations, and is also recruiting foreign nationals.
For example, Richard recently placed a 23-year-old South African junior quantity surveyor for the third phase of a £40m hospital project. The candidate had three years' experience in South Africa and was offered £15,000 and will receive a pension and health scheme after a year.
Clients have begun to request applicants with health and safety qualifications, while candidates with PFI experience are also in demand.