Simon Kaye was a London boy until 2001. Then EC Harris offered him work in the Irish capital. Now, five years on, Mark Leftly finds him running the Ireland office, working on major civils projects and able to find time to enjoy a pint of the black stuff …
Simon Kaye, the head of the multidisciplinary consultant’s Ireland office, is a happy man. ”If I was working for EC Harris in London I wouldn’t be running my own office,” he chuckles. “I might be running a team, I suppose.”
Kaye has a point. He is just 33 years old, yet has been one of the main drivers of the 10-strong Dublin office since he joined the company in January 2001. He is a perfect example of why young construction people should consider a move to the emerald isle.
The opportunities are huge, particularly for quantity surveyors, who are the most sought after professionals in Ireland. This is why a typical associate QS with three years experience can earn £30,000-35,000 a year. This is well above the UK average of £23,900 and compares well with London.
Although Dublin can be more expensive for certain items than the UK capital – food shopping is Kaye’s gripe – it is cheaper to go out and there is a calmer pace of life. Kaye, who spent his entire life in north-east London until joining EC Harris, says: “London is very clinical – go to work, maybe have a couple of drinks with your colleagues, then go home. Because it’s smaller here, everyone knows each other.”
It might be a smaller city, but the sheer amount of development has meant that Kaye has already worked on £700m to £1bn of projects in five-and-a-half years. After working on the Jubilee Line Extension for London Underground, Kaye was hired by EC Harris on a six-month contract to help project manage the Kildare route scheme, a 32 km stretch of rail in a key growth corridor.
London is very clinical – go to work, maybe have a couple of drinks, then go home. Because it’s smaller here, everyone knows each other
Simon kaye, EC Harris
But, having met “a nice Irish girl”, Kaye and his colleague Paul Chapman, who has since left the firm, decided to have a go at establishing EC Harris as a long-term player in the market. It was and is a young office – EC Harris’ Dublin staff range in age from early 20s to mid-30s – so it was not so difficult for someone of Kaye’s age to be in a position of seniority.
The excitement for Kaye came from being able to set up one of Ireland’s fledgling development bodies, the Railway Procurement Agency. Seconded there for three years, Kaye helped set up the £400m Dublin light rail system, known as Luas (Gaelic for “speed”). His job included procuring the infrastructure and ticket maintenance contracts.
This expertise in civils procurement has served Kaye well in Ireland as the country still lacks people with the experience to help deliver large projects. This probably explains why half of EC Harris’ Dublin team is from the UK, and why it has been successful in winning large projects – at the moment it is working on Ireland’s biggest ever infrastructure project, the £510m Dublin Port Tunnel, which will reduce the congestion caused by heavy goods vehicles between the port, which lies to the east of central Dublin, and the M1 motorway close to Dublin Airport.
So the opportunities are there for young British people. As important, though, is the work–life balance. When he first came to Dublin, Kaye had a great time hanging out in Temple Bar, the district notorious for riotous stag and hen dos. Unsurprisingly, this became “too touristy” for Kaye and he sought alternative venues – and there are plenty. Bagot Street, a more upmarket area, is where he now prefers to enjoy “Guinness culture”.
Kaye also found lots of time to play sport, including badminton, at which he represented England as a junior, and rugby. Most importantly, though, he found a great home for himself and the nice Irish girl, now his wife, in Newbridge, Curragh, some 30 miles outside of Dublin, with the sort of dramatic views that he would have struggled to find in north-east London.