The 2000 Hays Montrose/Building contractors' salary guide shows that, with the exception of buyers, the Republic offers the best pay packets. Planners in Dublin scoop £10 000 more than their colleagues in London, and general foremen pocket £13 000 more.
Meanwhile, on a national level, estimators are enjoying an average 6.6% pay rise on last year, reflecting a continuing shortage across the regions. According to the survey, an experienced estimator in Wales can earn £30 000, an increase of £8000 on last year. Tim Walker, a consultant with Hays Montrose in Birmingham, says: "Two years ago, in the Birmingham area, they would get £27 000; now it's more like £32 000." A top-notch estimator in Ireland can take away £40 000 or more.
The skills shortage in the Irish market is now so acute that workers from the UK, Australia and New Zealand are being invited into the country. Salaries have to be attractive. Nick Fitzgerald, a recruitment consultant with Manpower Construction in Dublin, says: "We draft in roughly 20 to 30 people a week from overseas, of whom around 15 are professional. Our rates have to be good to encourage people to relocate."
Rowan O'Grady, regional director of Hays Montrose Ireland, agrees: "Site managers, planners and quantity surveyors are particularly hard to find. There are six vacancies for each quantity surveyor."
The construction industry in Ireland has been booming for the past three years, so why the sudden jump in salaries? The chronic shortages have affected the attitudes of both employers and employees, O'Grady explains. "Candidates' expectations and confidence have gone up as they've realised that employers are competing to employ them, so employers have finally changed their salary banding. It's a candidate's market."
Elsewhere, growth may be more modest, but it is still strong and the shortages felt in Ireland are commonplace. Ian Dennis, regional director for the South-west with Hays Montrose, says: "From September 1999 to September 2000, the number of clients listing vacancies with us went up by 25%."
For Dennis, this is yet more evidence of the chronic recruitment crisis facing the industry. "During the early 1990s, the construction industry fell through the floor," he explains. "It was non-sexy and young people were attracted to accountancy, law and finance instead. As a result, there is now a dearth of people in their 30s – the very people who should be the industry's energy force."
As the boom in its construction market continues, Ireland is at the sharp end of the recruitment policies of the 1990s. Irish employers are advertising for contract workers in their national press with zero response. They have no choice but to shell out thousands. But there are concerns that the labour market could soon overheat. Says Dennis: "I wonder how long Ireland's growth can continue. It makes me think of the late 1980s."