If you have a hankering for drinking milk straight from a freshly fallen coconut and sipping rum as the cornflower blue sea laps gently at your feet, now might be the time to indulge your tropical fantasy. The demand for project managers, engineers and quantity surveyors to work in the Caribbean islands has never been greater, according to this year’s Hays Montrose international salary guide. Not only is there a large number of jobs, but the salaries are good. A project manager can command up to £50 000 a year.
The islands, which stretch from Spanish-speaking Cuba to English-speaking Trinidad, are major upmarket tourist attractions and as such need infrastructure to support the hordes of visitors. “The demand for people to go and work in the Caribbean has gone up 100% since last year,” declares Hays International director Raj Sharma. “The salaries are quite decent because the developments in leisure and hotels are of a high quality and often specialised, so the pay needs to reflect that.”
The latest opening for UK firms is the Spanish-speaking republics of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Like the rest of the region, they attract infrastructure funding from the World Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank, especially for water and sewage schemes to support the burgeoning leisure industry.
The government of Puerto Rico, a free territory of the USA, is particularly eager to attract British consultants to carry out a raft of planned infrastructure work. Thames Water is already building a pipeline for a sewage scheme in the capital, San Juan. Major cruise operators such as P&O tend to start and finish their Caribbean tours in Puerto Rico, and, to support the increasing demand for cruises, the Puerto Rican government is developing a cruise terminal, called the Golden Triangle, in San Juan. The project includes space for new hotels that will house passengers.
Last February, British Consultants Bureau deputy director Nigel Peters went on a research visit to Puerto Rico. “The Puerto Ricans are keen to encourage European consultants because they have a love-hate relationship with the Americans,” he says. “They want to show them that they are an independent country but there is also the view that, for large design-and-build projects, the Americans are not as up to speed as the Europeans.” In the neighbouring Dominican Republic, too, tourism is sparking the development of hotels and resort complexes as well as water and sewage treatment centres to ensure the supply of clean water for visitors. There are some more unusual projects. Mouchel is rehabilitating a bridge in Santo Domingo that has corroded because locals have been using the steel structure as a latrine – the big giveaway is the fact that the bridge is rusty only up to waist level.
Tourism and infrastructure are also sustaining work in English-speaking islands such as Jamaica and Trinidad. Again, the demand for cruises run by the likes of P&O is funding portside developments in Jamaica. The Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago governments are using World Bank and Caribbean Development Bank funds to finance roads and water schemes.
Multidisciplinary consultant WSP has an office in Kingston, which carries out a wide variety of work, from transport to marine infrastructure studies. The road sector is becoming more sophisticated. Trinidad is setting up UK-style road agencies for maintenance work. But the big opening for UK consultants is in highly specialised roles on complicated projects such as fancy hotels. “The Caribbean is reasonably well served by its own architects but they miss out on the high-tech expertise, such as specialised lighting services or mechanical and electrical works, that UK firms can provide,” explains WSP’s Alan Machray.
If the bright blue waters of the Caribbean pall, perhaps the splendour of the Nile might be an antidote. “Egypt is the only place in the Middle East where there is any demand for recruitment at the moment,” says Hays International’s Sharma. Mace is working on a cement factory in Alexandria for Blue Circle.
Further south, the doom-and-gloom merchants who predicted the fall-out of work in Hong Kong have been proved wrong. Construction work peaked with the completion of Chek Lap Kok airport, but the complicated infrastructure projects are continuing apace. “The work hasn’t dropped off dramatically and international business has not been frightened away. The future of Hong Kong is in its infrastructure so there will be work for some time,” says the British Consultants Bureau’s Peters.
In Europe, the former communist state of Poland is proving to be the land of opportunity for UK consultants. The country has a population of about 50 million and is attracting European firms desperate to get a foothold in the large market as well as European Commission grants for infrastructure schemes to be completed before Poland joins the European Union.
Mace, Davis Langdon & Everest, Bovis Lend Lease and Gleeds all have offices in Poland. Mace is reporting a particularly busy period working for clients such as Tesco, German retailer Metro and KFC. “There is almost more work than we can imagine but it is a case of developing progressively and not overnight. We want to cultivate long-term relationships and keep a sustainable business,” says Michael Davies, international director for Mace.
But competition for Polish projects has become much more aggressive. Ten years after opening up to the West, local consultants and contractors have developed the sort of expertise demanded by international clients. “It is becoming more aggressive now because the Polish firms are offering what we are offering and they are very good,” admits Stuart Walker, managing director of Mace.
Whether your dream is to provide the services engineering for a tropical island hotel or to project-manage a KFC in a Krakow, it is not simply a case of marching in and snapping up work. The best way is to develop links with local firms. The British Consultants Bureau runs trade missions to hot-spots to get to know local firms so that they can team up with British counterparts. “The days are gone when you could just go in, do the job and get out,” says Peters. Because of this trend for local partnerships, learning the language of the area, if it is not English-speaking, becomes a paramount issue (I never want to leave Spain, left).
A stint abroad will not make a project manager or engineer rich, but the experience does have other rewards. It might be a chance to work in a developing business, such as Mace’s Spanish operation, to get to know a different political culture in Cuba, or to try 50 different types of vodka in Poland. As Darren Moore, a Laing contracts manager working on the newly opened Oresund bridge-tunnel in Denmark, says: “It is a chance to get an idea of another culture which, when you get back to Britain, means you have a more global view of business and a better understanding of people.”