The south-west of England has never been livelier, with construction jobs and salaries surfing a wave of development, says Robert Smith of Hays Montrose
As with many regions in the UK, 2003 has been a very busy year for construction in the south-west of England. The demand for quantity surveyors, engineers and estimators in particular has grown significantly, with huge leaps in salaries for building professionals in the region. Quantity surveyors' salaries alone have risen about 14%, and look set to increase further as the shortage of top quality professional candidates continues.

The region's biggest city, Bristol, has had a major overhaul in the last decade, with luxury loft and apartment developments converting the city's industrial docklands into a coveted address. Bristol has also had a great deal of commercial development with the city forging a name for itself as a shopping and style capital. As such, professionals with commercial project experience are now in high demand, and skills shortages are most prevalent in this sector. Companies with commercial contracts in the city are desperately seeking mid-level quantity surveyors, engineers and estimators for a number of large-scale projects.

The busy port city has also enjoyed a huge influx of public sector work recently, including the development of schools, hospitals and prisons. A number of large residential projects are also under way, with construction companies seeking people with experience in new-build and refurbishment projects.

Ben Carter, consultant at Hays Montrose Bristol, recently placed a 30-year-old site manager on a large refurbishment project of government buildings in the city centre.

The public sector client was seeking someone with three years' experience in the property services environment to handle the building maintenance, and was offering a salary of £30,000. Additional benefits included a car and contributory pension scheme.

"At the moment, it's relatively easy to fill public sector roles because of the amount of initiatives going on in the region," says Carter. "As a result there are lots of local people with this kind of experience. Candidates from a commercial background are much harder to find, and with such a huge demand and few locals available to fill the roles, successful candidates have relocated from the South-east, Wales and the North."

2003 has also been the busiest year to date for Hays Montrose in South Devon and Cornwall. Major projects such as new-build hotels, luxury apartment blocks, social housing and regeneration schemes in rundown areas have caused the market to peak. In particular, Pearce, Rokbuild and Cowlin Construction have been exceptionally active in this area. Jon Seymour, senior manager of Hays Montrose Plymouth, says: "Salaries in Devon and Cornwall are rising as contractors set up offices in the area. Quantity surveyors in particular are in great demand, with candidates of five years' plus experience getting salaries of up to £35,000."

Isobel Heaney of Hays Montrose Plymouth says: "The traditional lines of job demarcation are blurring. There is a much higher demand for flexible, multiskilled professionals such as site agents happy to work as a manager on one project and foreman on the next. Another trend is that firms are offering better perks such as car allowances to make up for poorer pensions."

The housebuilding market in the whole region remains very strong, with a high demand for all types of residential properties. The glut of municipal works under way in the region is also attracting people to high-profile projects such as the Crown Court in Exeter and a large PFI scheme. Hays Montrose foresees a robust market in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall boosting job prospects for some time to come.