Demand for skilled candidates is rising in Scotland, particularly in the Highlands, as the result of a number of major projects including the flood alleviation programme in Moray and the upgrade of the main resort complex in Aviemore. Scottish Water has a budget of £1.2bn to spend on upgrading the water treatment facilities, much of which will be spent in the Highlands.
Donald Wynn, senior consultant at Hays Montrose Inverness, says that historically Tullochs, AWG and the Robertson Group dominated the market in the Highlands – but there are now several established smaller contractors successfully working in the region.
Though there are shortages across the board, quantity surveyors are particularly difficult to find, says Wynn. Finding a QS with sufficient experience for an £18m project in the area proved to be very difficult and the successful candidate (aged 28 with four years' postgraduate experience) was offered £28,000.
Edinburgh's construction scene is also very busy, with a number of large ventures under way or about to begin. These include residential developments in areas such as Leith and Granton, as well as some commercial and public sector projects. One residential project worth £30m recently appointed a local candidate with eight years' experience, offering a starting salary of £29,000 including car allowance plus health and contributory pension schemes.
Traditionally, many positions have been difficult to fill in Scotland, as candidates are tempted away by the higher salaries offered in the South-east of England. However, this trend has slowed recently. Wynn says: "Many locals who previously headed south for the money are now returning, as the local economy is on the up with some much-needed investment. People are also getting tired of the rat race and are cashing in on the value of their English property."
Despite this trend, skills shortages still exist and there are many positions to fill. "Candidates with two to six years' experience are the most difficult to source," says Michael Duncan, senior consultant at Hays Montrose. "Larger clients are looking for good project experience and prefer candidates from a university background or with chartered membership of the relevant institute. Traditional Scottish contractors tend to prefer those who have a good local understanding."
Civil engineering vacancies are proving difficult to fill, with both construction and commercial management projects suffering. On the specialist trades side, there is a shortage of experienced plumbers and bricklayers. CAD technicians are also in demand. "I have a number of clients that I could place a CAD technician with tomorrow," says Claire Crombie at Hays Montrose Glasgow.
Duncan also expects further increases to the general construction market in Scotland overall. "Lots of larger projects in the east of Scotland, with more planned, will bring work for the big main contractors and subcontractors," he says. "Edinburgh and the surrounding areas are experiencing a major growth in residential development, which has led to the changing face of the city."