The lawn may look plush over at the clients’ and contractors’ place, but that doesn’t necessarily mean envious consultants should jump the fence.
If you’re a bit bored of your job, it’s not unusual to develop the suspicion that there are people out there who’ve got a better deal than you. And for architects, engineers and surveyors working for specialist practices, that may well be the case. Consultants’ salaries have increased steadily in the past year – as the annual survey from recruitment firm Hays Construction & Property, overleaf, shows – but if you’re after a whopping pay rise, the fastest way to get it is to defect to a client or a contractor.
Competition between consultancies for a limited pool of staff has been fierce for several years, but it’s getting even hotter as clients and contractors have begun fishing in the same pond. “Clients are really keen to pull people from the consultancy side and there is definitely a loosening of interdisciplinary moves,” says Tim Cook, managing director of Hays Construction & Property. “More employers are looking at associated industries for staff.”
Firms outside consultancy are also more flexible, he notes. “If you look at an area like social housing, they take a broader view of the skills they would consider compared with the strict requirements of practices.”
Unfortunately for consultancies, their fees aren’t rising nearly fast enough to win a bidding war. Dismayed human resources directors recount stories of QSs with five years’ experience being lured away by contractors for a salary jump of £10,000.
The problem is particularly bad for architects, says Charlotte Vincent, a senior consultant in Hays’ architecture division. “Practices are having to compete with contractors and developers for staff and, generally, these companies offer higher salaries and better benefits packages. Although the industry hasn’t responded with massive salary hikes, it is making the market more competitive.”
An experienced architect working in a practice in central London can expect to earn about £40,000 but Hays has found that the equivalent role at a contractor can pay up to 10% more, particularly at senior levels. Once you’ve added the benefits offered by the contractor, the total package is often worth about 15% more than a job at a practice, although these higher paid posts tend to be limited to larger cities such as Manchester and London.
So, jumping the fence may net you more cash, but is it necessarily the best career move? Mike Nightingale, chairman of architect Nightingale Associates, is not sure the variety and flow of work would match consultancy. “If you’re working for someone like Arup, you’ve got a lot of flexibility. You might not get that at a client. Employees working for clients get paid more to be loyal, but you’re selling your soul a bit, aren’t you?”
In certain circumstances, he concedes, a three or four-year stint with a client could look great on your CV. “You may want to build up knowledge of how clients work, which will be attractive to your employer in consultancy, but it all depends on the quality of the job and the size of the client.”
Steve McGuckin left consultant Mace six years ago to join uber-client Land Securities as director of projects. Not surprisingly, he believes switching sides can be a liberating experience. “When you work in consultancy and you hit 50 or 60, you’ll be doing the same job as you did years ago because you’re paid for your client base and knowledge,” he says. “I realised at 30, rather then at 45, that I didn’t want to be locked into a partnership. If you’re in consultancy, you’ve just got the endgame of becoming an equity partner, whereas if you work on the client side and you’re a corporate director, you can change jobs every five years.”
If you have very specialist knowledge and are passionate about a subject, consultancy is for you, says McGuckin. Working for clients makes you more of a generalist, using more managerial skills. “People either thrive or freeze when they join clients, because they have to make big decisions, not just recommendations,” he adds.
Consultancies are hoping they can persuade people to stay for reasons other than hard cash. “We are up against a lot of competition, so we do spend a fair amount of time and effort attracting people,” says Amanda Houlihan, HR development director at architect BDP. “Remuneration will always be important but architecture is not one of the highest-paying professions. The people who come into it recognise that, and do it because they love what they do.”
Bel Appleby, HR manager at surveyor Ridge, says its employee research showed that while salaries are important, career development, benefits and team spirit still hold sway for staff. “When people are looking at jobs they are looking at more than the salary. People spend a lot of time at work and they want variety.”
So money isn’t everything – but that cuts both ways. McGuckin is adamant that he didn’t leave consultancy for the money. “I’ve developed a whole new perspective. There are times in the last six years when I would have worked for nothing.”
“Often employers find it difficult to justify salary increases, as their fees may not have risen in the same way, despite the buoyant market,” says Claire Crombie, manager at Hays Property & Surveying. Nevertheless, all kinds of surveyors have enjoyed above-inflation pay increases – some two or three times the base rate – because they are still in such short supply, particularly those in their 30s and 40s.
Experienced claims surveyors now earn an average of £40,769, up 7.2% on last year. Among building surveyors, 35-year-old project managers enjoyed the sharpest increase of 7.4% to £41,154. The slimmest increases were for partner level QSs – only 3.3%. Salaries have increased across the UK, but there’s still a steep gap between wages in central London and almost everywhere else.
Even though there’s been considerable hype about spiralling pay in architecture, there’s little sign of it in the survey unless you’re a CAD technician with three years’ experience or a new graduate. Those lucky CAD technicians’ salaries rose by almost 10% this year to a national average of £24,346. Part I architectural assistants did almost as well, with 8.8% hikes to £17,038. Average pay for Part II assistants increased by 7.2% to £22,962.
“Part I graduates are always in demand because companies are obliged to employ a certain number each year,” explains Gary Sheldrake, manager at Hays Architecture. “Many now offer a retaining fee to suitable candidates so that they return after they have completed their Part II diploma, for example, by offering a study allowance and the opportunity for holiday work.”
At the other end of the scale, partners and directors’ pay rose by a measly 2.6% – although with an average salary of £49,154, they’re not really suffering.
In London, Hays consultants report massive demand for fully qualified RIBA Part III, senior technicians who can demonstrate an understanding of the construction process, senior technologists and technicians and Part IV landscape architects.
Civil and structural cad technicians
There’s great demand for experienced CAD technicians. Managers with 15 years on the tools are earning 7.8% more than last year, with a national average of £32,423. Senior team leaders with eight years’ experience have enjoyed average pay hikes of 7.1%, up to £29,154. Technicians who’ve only been using CAD for three years received a more down-to-earth increase of 3.6% to put them on £25,692.
Experience is prized in engineering at the moment, particularly if you’re an infrastructure or geotechnical specialist. The highest increases went to infrastructure engineers with five years’ experience – their average salary soared 8.4% to £32,885. Infrastructure principals took home £40,308, a rise of 6.1%. The geotechnical specialists, working in a growing area, also enjoyed rises of more than 6% at both senior and principal level, taking pay to £31,385 and £40,462 respectively. Less well remunerated were the water engineers, particularly those with two years’ experience, who got a meagre 2.8% rise. Churn rates are going up – civil and structural engineers are now tending to move jobs every few years, which pushes up salaries more quickly. And you need to be chartered to get the best deal: “Employers are very flexible with candidates that are already chartered and they tend to receive the highest remuneration packages,” says Kuldeep Mahal, manager at Hays Consulting Engineering.
The Hays Construction & Property/Building Salary Guide 2007 is based on salaries of candidates placed within the past 12 months. It is compiled over a four-week period by staff at offices across the UK. Hays Construction & Property, the specialist recruitment consultancy to the built environment, consulted candidates and clients and used the specialist knowledge of its recruitment consultants to compile this comprehensive survey. For further information visit www.hays.com/cp.
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