Architects may be starting to feel the seeping chill of recession, but this year's Building/Hays Montrose Careers survey depicts an industry that's still confident – and desperate for skilled employees.
So, has the threat of a recession begun to permeate the consciousness of Building readers? Well, maybe a little. This year's Building/Hays Montrose careers survey suggests that the industry is beginning to feel a little more cautious. The proportion of respondents looking for a new job or starting one in the past six months fell from the high levels of the past two years to a slightly more moderate 53%. Specialist contractors are least happy in their work, with more than 60% on the move, while consulting engineers are the most contented of the bunch – only one-third of those who responded to the survey were looking to move elsewhere.

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.


The 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

It’s the challenge that’s important. I’ve only just joined the BWF because of the tremendous opportunity. But if the challenge disappeared, that would trigger me to look at changing jobs

Tracy Kirby, health and safety specialist and planning supervisor, Associated Architects

I’d possibly go to an agency. Trade magazines are particularly useful. I’d probably look for agency numbers in there as well. I would also think of using my background, talking to people I worked with in my old company. I’d have plenty to choose from in that respect, but agencies are more suitable for me

David Scarr, structural engineer, Arup

I worked at Subic Bay in the Philippines and really enjoyed it. Being given the chance to work abroad is great, particularly for a young engineer as you get more experience than you would in the UK. I went somewhere remote where there were only a few other foreign people working, so I had to make decisions and do everything myself, which I wouldn’t have done in London. It’s also an opportunity to get some money together – you get paid more because you’ve been relocated. It makes a difference when you come back as well. When people look at a task and say it’s impossible, you approach at it in a different way because you’ve seen things done without all the technology we have here. It makes you more confident that it can be done. I’d definitely work abroad again

Roger Brennan, managing director, Swan Hill (western region)

Getting young people into the industry is a major concern. It’s just not as attractive as other industries and doesn’t pay as well. Opportunities for senior management are few and far between. I don’t think that the industry has the direction of other industries. It is susceptible to market forces, litigation and so on. I have had almost no approaches from university leavers or people who have finished courses for a couple of years now – it concerns me greatly