This year's Hays Montrose/Building consultants' salary guide reveals architects are slipping down in the salary stakes, whereas surveyors and engineers are still climbing.
Architects looking for new jobs are seeing their value slip, according to the 2002 Hays Montrose/Building consultants' salary guide. The heady increases commanded by designers this time last year are long gone. And an increasingly competitive jobs market means that those looking to make a move have to settle for smaller wage packets.

In the context of slower economic growth and the knock given to companies' confidence by the events of 11 September, junior surveyors are also having to fight harder to find work. Meanwhile, senior quantity surveyors and civil engineers are securing healthy salary boosts as demand for quality recruits remains high.

Newly qualified architects are taking the brunt of the fall in designers' salaries – their pay has dropped an average of 5.5% in the past year. And even partners and associates are feeling the pinch – both are experiencing slight salary falls. The only designers enjoying significant increases are architectural technologists, whose salaries have risen a bouncy 6.3%.

Ian Hirst, a partner in Abbey Holford Rowe's Huddersfield office, says there is no doubt that the labour market for architects is "flattening out" as the country's economic growth has slowed up. "We are inundated with CVs sent by agencies," he says. "Last year, recruiting good people could be a problem. Now we are getting to the point where we can be more selective."

Hirst says newly qualified architects are facing competition from more experienced designers – confirming the survey's findings. "People straight from college are rather green, so we end up retraining them – which costs money. Given the choice, we'll choose the people who have more experience." For Abbey Holford Rowe, the onus is on students to produce exceptional quality portfolios to convince companies of their worth.

Mark Hide, architect and office manager at Leeds-based designer Carey Jones, agrees that earnings growth for architects has slowed. "Salaries were so low in the 1990s that there was a kind of catch-up phase for a few years, which is now possibly easing off." But Hide says it is still extremely difficult to find high-calibre candidates.

"We have five vacancies and trying to fill them with the appropriate people isn't easy." He adds that the highest quality graduates can still expect to receive tempting offers.

In quantity surveying, top-level personnel have seen pay rises exceed inflation, with partners bagging up to 5.9% extra in their pay packets. But measurement surveyors come out on top, having seen their pay shoot up 15.8%. Also riding high are infrastructure and bridge engineers, whose salaries have increased by up to 5%, although neither has matched the jumps they managed in the 2001 survey.

However, although senior surveyors are faring well, their juniors are feeling the effects of a slackening recruitment market – surveyors and newly qualified surveyors have only managed slight salary increases. Catrin Pugh, head of resourcing at consultant EC Harris, says the company is less willing to recruit speculatively: "A year ago we were happy to recruit on spec because we knew we'd be able to place that person soon after, and we couldn't be sure when another outstanding candidate would come along. Now we're recruiting for specific roles because we have more candidates to choose from."

Architectural trainees are falling on tough times. Tony Baldassarra, architectural recruitment consultant with Hays Montrose in Southampton, says his clients are clamouring for experienced candidates. He says: "A 28-year-old, part III-qualified designer will go like a hot cake, but it's a different story for architectural assistants at part II level. I've got lots of young trainees on my books." Baldassarra's experience is borne out by the survey – part II architectural assistants have seen their average salary level fall 0.1%.

Demand for architectural technologists is high, with senior personnel earning up to £33,000 in central London. "Technologists provide essential back-up to the designers, and there aren't too many around with five years' experience," explains Baldassarra.

"I know a company that has been looking for a senior technologist for months." Abbey Holford Rowe's Hirst agrees that technologists are thin on the ground. "It's still difficult to get these guys," he says.

CAD technicians, however, are getting fewer rewards. A technician with 10 years' experience can command more than £30,000 in the South-east, but this is still a drop of 0.4%. And those with only three years' experience are also struggling to keep their salaries on a par with the levels reached in 2001 – average pay rose a paltry 1.7%.

The recruitment market for surveyors has quietened since 2001, but the skills shortage problem rages on, according to Caroline Darley, section manager at Hays Montrose. "The main spurt in salary growth happened last year, and salaries have now begun to settle – there is still a massive skills shortage, but medium-sized and small firms can't continually pay out more and more," she says.

Darley points to the competition between major contractors and private quantity surveyors for new talent. "Whereas a contractor can offer £20,000 to a newly qualified surveyor, many consultants can only afford £14,000 – but may end up paying over the odds because there aren't enough graduates to go round," she says. Assistant surveyors are also a rare breed – their average salary is up 5.8%.

Some firms are going directly to university recruitment fairs in search of new blood. Danny Chalkley, director at multidisciplinary consultant NAP, says this approach offers the advantages of face-to-face contact with potential employees. "You can get CVs sent to you by agencies, but a lot will not be of the right calibre."

Chalkley says finding experienced QSs can also be tough, and EC Harris' Pugh agrees, although she says the firm is getting more CVs than last year. "We now have three or four candidates for each job, rather than just one or two as sometimes happened last year."

Engineers' salaries have risen as the number of public infrastructure projects continues to grow. Graeme Fyfe, engineering recruitment consultant at Hays Montrose in Edinburgh, says the skills shortage in Scotland is acute. "Over £1bn will be invested over the next few years in water and wastewater projects, and there aren't enough qualified people to take on all the jobs," he says.

Infrastructure engineers are earning up to £34,000 in Scotland and salaries are beginning to catch up with those paid in London. Nationwide, water and infrastructure graduates are in hot demand and have had some of the biggest pay increases among consultants this year. Civil engineering graduates in the water industry enjoyed a 6.4% pay increase and can command up to £19,000 in London; and infrastructure engineers with 11-plus years' experience have scooped almost 5% more on average this year than last.

The market for structural engineers is also tight. David Crookes, director of structural engineer Fluid in London, says finding enthusiastic recruits with "good social graces" is a challenge. "I want to employ people who really seize their work and treat engineering as more than just a nine-to-five job," he says. "I want engineers who are good communicators and they aren't easy to find. A lot of people with these skills have strayed into IT or accountancy."

Methodology and key

The Hays Montrose/Building consultants’ salary guide is compiled from a database of salary details held by the regional offices of technical recruitment consultant Hays Montrose. A full copy will be available on the Hays Montrose site * Ireland figures converted from euros to pounds sterling
** National average includes Ireland figures