Architects proved to be the professionals most concerned by the possibility of a downturn: 71% of those who responded said this was something that concerned them a lot. "Architects are the leading economic indicator in the construction industry, being way ahead of builders in the construction pipeline," says Paul Purvis, European marketing manager at international architect HOK. Perhaps the rest of the industry should take note.
Overall, however, there are no signs of panic; the percentage of respondents particularly worried by a downturn has actually fallen slightly, from last year's 42% to 39%. It may be some time before recession fears hit the job market. Gary Redman, managing director of Now Recruitment, a specialist in the contracting sector, does not think the industry as a whole is yet feeling the effects of a threatened downturn. "We are as busy as ever in construction," he says.
The survey found that the issue of most concern to respondents was the problem of attracting young people into construction – 62% said this concerns them a lot, an increase from last year's 50%. But one side effect of the problem is that firms are sweetening their salary packages to keep the staff they have, and they are also pulling out all the stops to attract the limited number of new recruits available.
Although this is bad news for construction, it is the perfect climate for a headhunter: if the right people are not looking for the job, the job must look for them. "Headhunting is becoming ever more popular," says Graham Jackson of Potensis, a headhunting specialist in the construction sector. Proof of this can be found in Potensis' success: established just 20 months ago, the firm has grown from a base of three staff to more than 30.
When it comes to looking for a new job, respondents said that they were still most likely to look in the trade press: two-thirds would expect to find a new position in the pages of Building. The second most popular method of job-hunting was networking – making the most of friends and contacts. Could this suggest that an old boys network is still thriving in the industry? Perhaps so, as the respondents were overwhelmingly male – only 11% of the surveys were filled in by women.
So what is responsible for giving more than half the industry itchy feet? For most respondents, the simple answer is the need for a fresh challenge. Almost three out of four said this would convince them to move, although unsympathetic management was almost as likely to act as a catalyst for a job search.
To entice a restless employee into accepting a job with them, a new employer would have to offer a decent salary – 73% of respondents said this was very important in a prospective employer. But the survey also revealed that 63% thought a company pension was important, as more people are conscious of the need to invest for the future.
Iain Dennis, regional manager with recruitment consultant Hays Montrose, points out that job candidates aren't just impressed by big pay cheques. He says: "Pensions, life assurance, private health assurance, location – people are looking at the overall package, and they don't always take the best-paid job offer."
Perks, such as membership of a sports club, came low down on the priority list when sizing up a new employer – only 7% expressed an interest in such offerings.
Confirming that money certainly isn't everything for construction employees, E E almost three-quarters of those surveyed said training concerned them a lot, beating salaries to the top spot and pushing health and safety into third place. HOK Architects is one firm that has taken this concern on board – going so far as to establish its own university, HOKU.
"We see the training opportunities as an important part of attracting and retaining staff," says Emily Packham, HOK's training officer. Employees are also becoming increasingly sensitive to IT provision.
With the skills shortage showing no sign of abating and the recession yet to bite, it seems employees are still able to call the shots in construction. Next year, however, it may be a whole different story.
MethodologyThe results were compiled from 261 completed questionnaires. Just under half of the respondents were consultants – architects, engineers and surveyors – and main and specialist contractors accounted for a quarter of those surveyed. The other quarter consisted of facilities managers, local authority workers and other construction employees. Almost one-third of respondents were aged between 25 and 34 and more worked in London than any other region (28%). A quarter of the sample earned in the £30,00-39,999 bracket and 89% were male.
Adam Frankling, product manager, British Woodworking Federation
Tracy Kirby, health and safety specialist and planning supervisor, Associated Architects
David Scarr, structural engineer, Arup
Roger Brennan, managing director, Swan Hill (western region)
Many thanks to those who filled in the survey. Magnums of champagne for the first five surveys out of the hat are on their way to Victoria Davies from Shropshire, Stuart Davidson from Edinburgh, Tom Barnes from Luton, Steve Mayo from Oxfordshire and Peter Armstrong from London.